Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Criminals may soon see welfare benefits cut -- a bad idea

Should people with warrants out for their arrest still be entitled to welfare benefits?
There is currently no provision in Manitoba's Employment and Income Assistance Act that connects outstanding warrants to the welfare rolls, but Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen wants to change that.
"From a taxpayer's perspective it's wrong. It's making it easier for them not to deal with that warrant," Goertzen said. "Why should the taxpayer be paying them welfare assistance to stay on the lam?"
Goertzen intends to introduce a private member's bill this week that, if passed, would cut welfare payments to anyone who has committed a "serious" crime and is wanted on an outstanding warrant either for that crime or a subsequent breach of a court condition related to it. A list of eligible crimes could be precisely defined later but would include most violent and sexual offences, he said.
A similar law will soon be on the books in B.C.
"It doesn't mean they're excluded forever. It means they're excluded until they go down to the police station and deal with their situation," Goertzen said.
Justice Minister Andrew Swan said he's not necessarily opposed to the idea, but needs to see the details as set out in the bill to see if it's something that could work in practical terms.
"If there's an idea of how we can make the system more effective, I'm interested," Swan said. "Effective means it assists police in doing their jobs. I'm interested in getting effective results. I'm not interested in targeting one group or another."
Swan said the social assistance office is not currently notified if police put out a warrant to arrest one of its welfare recipients.
There are thousands of warrants outstanding in the province — likely somewhere in the 10,000 to 12,000 range, although that could not be confirmed Tuesday. Neither Goertzen nor Swan could say how many of those people had committed serious crimes and also receive welfare payments, but Goertzen said with that many warrants out there, surely some of their subjects must be on the welfare rolls.

Cut off welfare to people with outstanding warrants: opposition
People who have outstanding warrants for serious indictable offences shouldn’t be able to collect social assistance, the Conservative Opposition justice critic says.
Kelvin Goertzen said today he will introduce a private member’s bill this week to make sure it doesn’t happen.

"We don’t believe — and I don’t think Manitobans believe — that they should be having tax dollars go to helping people evade their warrants or to help them (when they are) at large from the law," Goertzen told reporters.
He said he doesn’t know how many people might be collecting welfare after having missed a court date. But with as many as 12,000 outstanding warrants currently in Winnipeg, it is reasonable to assume that some of them are collecting social assistance, he said.
He wants it stopped.
Goertzen said British Columbia recently passed a similar law to the one he is proposing. It will take effect June 1.

Deny welfare to the wanted: Tories
Manitobans wanted on outstanding arrest warrants for serious crimes should be barred from collecting social assistance, the Opposition justice critic said Tuesday.
'Why should the taxpayer be paying them welfare assistance to stay out on the lam?'—Kelvin Goertzen
Progressive Conservative Kelvin Goertzen plans to table a private member's bill in the provincial legislature this week in hopes of stopping the practice of paying welfare to people wanted by police for "serious offences."
"When an individual isn't fulfilling their obligation to show up in court for a serious offence – and these can be sexual offenders, these can be violent offenders … Why should the taxpayer be paying them welfare assistance to stay out on the lam?," Goertzen said.
Previously, he said he also wanted to limit the ability of people wanted by police to renew their driver's licences.
Normally, opposition bills are rejected by the government, but Attorney General Andrew Swan said he will take a look at the idea.
Swan said if the plan is workable and can be effective, he's willing to consider it.
Neither Swan nor Goertzen could say how many people currently on welfare are also wanted on arrest warrants.
Goertzen said his latest bill is modelled after similar legislation in B.C. that will become law next week.
Under that bill, welfare recipients will be asked on social assistance application forms if they are wanted by police.

People should not be discriminated against because of an outstanding warrant. Just because they have committed a crime in the past does not mean that they are still committing crimes. They may be living a crime free life and need social assistance to survive if they are living in poverty. Everyone who is eligible, should be able to receive social assistance, regardless of warrants. Otherwise, that is discrimination.

What if the individual has children who rely on social assistance? How would they be fed or provided for, if social assistance to the parent is curtailed? Where will they live? That's punishing more than just the criminal. Plus, if criminals are not receiving welfare, they will find other, more criminal means of obtaining money such as robberies and break and enters, if they become desperate enough. These people need help and we should be creating programs to help them secure and maintain employment. It would probably cause a lot more suffering for the individual's innocent family and children than for the offender with the warrant who is picking up the welfare check.

In practice, this bill will not do much, although the Conservatives would like the public to believe that it will be effective and make it appear as if they are doing something and taking action. Somebody will have to read and review all court documents and correlate who is wanted on a warrant and who is receiving social assistance. Very tedious work. This law cannot be enforced, because it is too difficult to correlate those two factors. 

Plus, where is the evidence and research saying that we need to cut social assistance to those wanted on warrants? There is none! The Conservatives simply want to appear "tough" by creating further deprivations for already socially marginalized individuals and families. 

Also, just because there is a warrant out for somebody's arrest does not make them guilty. They are innocent until proven guilty. So by curtailing social assistance, we are negatively impacting the lives of innocent individuals. Most warrants are for unpaid parking tickets, not for serious crimes, so this bill will not have much of an effect on anything. Plus, most people who have warrants out for their arrest are not on social assistance to begin with. Those who are innocent until proven guilty should not be punished. That is completely abandoning the rule of law! There is no crime epidemic and crime is not increasing.. it has been decreasing for the last 26 years! Nothing needs to change!

You need an address to collect social assistance. If the government already knows where you live, don't you think they could find you at your home and arrest you if there was an outstanding warrant for a serious crime? Even if the person does not reside at the address but simply uses it to collect welfare, you would think it wouldn't be too hard to track them down. What is stopping police from going to that address and arresting people with outstanding warrants?  Monitoring where someone picks up and cashes an assistance check could be a useful way for police to find and arrest them.. just an idea. If the government has their banking and address information, why aren't the police coming to arrest them? If they are receiving the checks, they obviously live at the address or are coming back to the address that the government mails them to.. so you would think that the police could easily track them down and pick them up wherever they collect their checks... If welfare knows where to find these people, why don't police? If you are running from the law, why would a wanted person answer that question honestly on the application form for social assistance?

The Conservatives are basing this bill on the unsubstantiated assumption that some people with outstanding warrants are collecting social assistance, yet they do not have even statistics as to how many individuals that actually is? Great research was done there! Maybe they should first find out how small that number actually is before making a bill such as this which is based on no research or evidence. They need to do some basic research before moving forward with this bill. They have absolutely no data or stats to support their claim or assumption. 

Warrants or not, people living in poverty need social assistance to survive, along with their families. So why should the taxpayer pay for these wanted people welfare assistance to stay out of trouble? First of all, we will be paying a lot more for court costs and incarceration and second, if we give them nothing they will resort to more criminal activity to get cash.  People who rely on social assistance, should have more assistance in accessing resources such as how to secure employment. It's harder than people think for them to turn their lives around and get a job, because many of them have no resume, have no job skills and are often discriminated against. Some people want to change, but they need the assistance to do so. They need assistance on how to manage their emotions, maintain employment, etc. 

A warrant could be for anything; it doesn't mean that you are a dangerous criminal, as you are innocent until proven guilty. It could be for parking tickets, failing to complete community service work or pay a fine, driving impaired, failing to appear in court, a complaint made about you and possible criminal behaviour but police don't know where you are, etc. You can have a warrant out for your arrest without knowing it, so it's not as easy as simply turning yourself in. 

Just because someone has a warrant out for their arrest, does not mean they are dangerous! They are innocent until proven guilty. Yes, that person should be arrested and appear before a judge, but often, they are in need of help. They may have no other way to live, but through social assistance. These people have few options, as they are often discriminated against for jobs.

Well, it's nice to see that there are some who realistically thought about the ramifications of such a law.
It's easy to say no to anyone with an arrest warrant - doesn't mean they are guilty and doesn't mean they are not in need of help. Yes the cops should be called and that person must appear before a judge - but if they have no other means to live, and are not a violent offender - it's cheaper to pay the few hundred dollars a regular welfare recipient gets than spending hundreds of dollars a day for incarceration.
Have you looked at some on assistance - would you hire them - probably not, some of these people have few options, are discriminated against for various reasons resulting in not finding a job (not for a lack of trying)

Now I know some of you will complain that everyone on welfare is cheating the system, and I would say there are many who do abuse it - but it is there when people like you don't care or wont hire.

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