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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Deal with the root causes of crime-- only that can prevent and reduce crime

It's been a week of strange coincidences and overlapping narratives.
First, the top-of-mind news.
Winnipeg is suffering through a violent-crime spree. Following a horrific sexual assault of a six-year-old girl, the city's West End has been ravaged by a series of shootings. In one, a boy with gang connections was shot and killed on Toronto Street; in the other, two girls (one 10, the other just eight years old) were hit with random gunfire as they played in the front room of their Victor Street home. Police and political leaders are reacting with predictable outrage. Mayor Sam Katz told CBC Radio he wanted Winnipeggers to muster all the anger and outrage they could and send it to Ottawa to let federal MPs know there must be more severe penalties for violent criminals.
Yes, that is what we need right now. More cops on the street, longer prison sentences. And police helicopters. That will stop sociopathic gang members from gunning each other down.
Oddly, after hearing Katz's comments, a series of other, seemingly unrelated stories come to mind. Like how the federal Conservative government is spending nearly $1 billion on security for the G8 and G20 summits, both being held in Ontario this summer. It is an outrageous sum, many times more than anyone has ever spent on security at a global summit.
Next, we hear from the Manitoba Ombudsman that the province is failing miserably to provide the resources necessary to help people transition from welfare to the workforce. In some cases, the province would not provide welfare recipients with a telephone, a critical tool in a job search.
And finally, the Manitoba Teachers' Society released a survey of its members that showed stress levels were reaching crisis proportions because of a lack of special needs resources and rapidly increasing class sizes that are preventing them from helping kids who need it the most.
What do all these stories have in common with Winnipeg's shameful crime spree? Together they form a damning picture of this country's priorities and our nearly complete inability to deal with the root causes of our problems.
Oxfam Canada issued a statement lambasting the federal government for its G8/G20 security spending spree while at the same time cutting foreign aid. "It just speaks to our priorities," said Oxfam executive director Robert Fox, "and the fact that when we choose to, we can mobilize resources and when there is a lack of political will, we fall short."
Oxfam is primarily interested in seeing more money directed to foreign aid. But Fox's comments about priorities and mobilizing resources where the will exists are relevant to all of the stories discussed above.
Obviously, the G8 and G20 must be secured. But what kind of impact would $1 billion have if it were used to help welfare recipients find jobs, or to shrink class sizes and hire more teachers to give vulnerable students more one-on-one attention? Most political leaders would agree that both of those things would probably help more people escape poverty, dysfunction and, ultimately, an appetite for violence.
If a massive injection of money could help reduce the number of random gun-related crimes, would that be a good use of $1 billion? Wouldn't an extra $1 billion for education reduce crime by saving children before they choose a life of crime?
It has been said before in this space, and it will be said again: The plural of anecdote is not data. A series of violent events that transpire over the course of a few days is not evidence the city is being overrun by gangs. It is a evidence that we have done a poor job of attacking the root causes of crime.
Crime is a wildly unpredictable, constantly evolving social condition. It is fundamentally motivated and influenced by a range of broader social conditions that include poverty, family dysfunction, substance abuse and a shortage of economic opportunity.
The many and varied root causes, along with evolving patterns of crime, mean that no single solution will reduce or prevent it. That would require a broad, preventative approach and robust resources, both of which are in short supply.
Unfortunately, a West End shooting spree that occurs a few months before a civic election and, possibly, a federal election, is no time to discuss broad policies to tackle crime.
At a time like this, it's a lot safer to retreat to the convenient responses: more police officers, longer prison sentences and, if you're Winnipeg city council, police helicopters to chase down jobless, under-educated and disaffected youth after they have turned to a life of crime.
And security. Lots and lots of security.

Excellent article! I completely agree that we need to address the root causes of crime and contributing risk factors, such as social and economic inequality, in order to prevent and reduce crime. Imprisonment is a short term solution. Addressing the root causes is a long term solution and is smarter than getting "tough" on crime.
 Dan Lett, I couldn't agree more with your viewpoint! If we truly care about preventing and reducing crime, we need to address the root causes and social and economic factors contributing. These problems, such as poverty, addictions, unemployment and family dysfunction plague the inner cities and aboriginal reserves. Those conditions are what lead people to commit crimes. Most criminals are not rational thinkers, do not weigh the costs and benefits of their actions and do not consider the consequences of their actions. Most criminals are impulsive. Therefore, deterrence by imprisonment is useless and will not work. Imprisoning more people for longer periods of time, will not reduce or prevent crime. Prison is a quick fix, not a long term solution as most criminals are released from prison with no support network, substance abuse issues, no rehabilitation as prison programs are underfunded and due to overcrowding there are not enough resources for everybody, no housing, unemployed, financial difficulties, mental health issues, and little assistance from any justice officials. Under these circumstances, they are likely to resort back to crime. Also, longer prison sentences have shown to increase the rate of re-offending. This is because prisons are the schools of crime. They are a negative environment that does not facilitate or encourage rehabilitation or reform. They are filled with gangs, drugs, pro-criminal attitudes and behaviours. Any skills a prisoner may have learned from a program are counteracted by the prison subculture and therefore, cannot be practiced or incorporated. Often, non violent, property and drug offenders become more hardened criminals in prison. This is NOT in society's best interests, if the recidivism rate is so high when these people are released. And they will ALL be released someday, so we must care about prison conditions and prisoners' rights. Overcrowding and deprivations cause increased levels of violence which leads to bitterness, anger and frustration when offenders are released. 

We need to address the root causes of crime to prevent and reduce crime. It's as simple as that. Getting tough on crime, mandatory minimum sentences, and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences will NOT reduce or prevent crime. It's been proven in the United States. Getting smart on crime is the answer, which means addressing the root causes, relying less on imprisonment as a sentence, abolishing mandatory minimum sentences, re-instating double time credit and allowing judges more discretion to consider all circumstances of a crime and the offender.

There needs to be a multi-faceted approach to solving crime; help solve the social and economic factors that leave teens thinking that joining a gang is the only family they will ever have, and offer incentives such as money for teens to complete high school. Longer sentences are not the answer as they increase the rate of re-offending and have negative impacts on offenders. Plus, offenders often become more entrenched in the criminal lifestyle as a result of gangs and drugs and pro criminal attitudes and behaviours which are prevalent in prison. Prisons are the schools of crime, where individuals learn to be better criminals and how to conceal crimes and learn dishonesty. I liked this comment from the WFP website: "Stony and Headingley are indeed schools: they teach Crime 101, Crime 201 and Crime 301. And just after lunch is Living Off the System 102 followed by How to Get Back In In 10 Easy Steps. Optional credits include Execution Style Murder for Dummies and Home Invasions Made Easy" 

Deterrence by the threat of punishment is not effective. Most criminals are impulsive. They are not rational and do not think about the consequences of their actions or about the possibility or threat of punishment. They also are not afraid of prison, because they often know gang members who live in prison, where they continue their criminal lifestyle of drugs and gang activity. 

The real problem behind gang activity is poverty. To overcome poverty, you need education. We need to offer teens monetary incentives if they complete high school and offer them scholarships to college and university. We also need to reduce unemployment by offering teens employment assistance and resources.   

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