Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Source: Globe and Mail: The Cost of Conservative Crime Bill for One Year: $458 Million
Source: Vancouver Sun: Judge Deems Harper's Crime Bill 'strain' on System
Source: CBC News: Tory Crime Bills Cracks Down on Drugs, Sex Offences

I've put off discussing the crime bill for awhile now; mainly because some of the issues to discuss about it have been discussed before on this blog.

Before the election, the opposition parties were hammering the Conservatives over the cost of their crime bills, as well as other bills, which were not fully documented in terms of cost. You may remember that the Minority Conservative government was found in contempt of the House of Commons over their refusal to provide this information; which in turn led to an election where Canadians seemed to forget that the government was basically pushed out of office for being untrustworthy.

Crime bills were part of the triumvirate of issues that had not been fulled budgeted to the Commons; fighter jets and corporate tax decisions were other parts. Yet, the one thing we all could agree on, was the fact that these bills were likely going to cost more than the Conservative Government said they were going to.

And now the cost of only one piece of the new Conservative omnibus crime bill has come out at a whopping price tag of $458 million dollars. This tag is associated with the 'Truth in Sentencing' Act; wherein a person waiting to stand trial is given time off their sentence due to time served in remand.

By removing this from the criminal justice system, those convicted of a crime will serve their full sentence...Ideally.

Let's not forget that full sentences aren't really full sentences. After all, someone who commits a crime may get a sentence of ten years; but may become eligible for parole at the four year mark...Meaning that they would still only spend four years in prison out of the ten they were sentenced for.

So, what do I mean by that example?

Effectively, this piece of the omnibus crime bill is useless. It increases prison populations, while ignoring the fact that many of these people will still be eligible for parole at some point in their sentence. As such, this is not even a half-measure. If the Conservatives were serious about tackling crimes and making sure criminals serve their sentence, they would remove the eligibly for parole at the same time, a move they have not yet made.

Now, I'm not advocating that. I'm simply saying that it doesn't make sense for the Conservatives to talk about people serving their sentences when there is still another method for criminals to leave prison before their sentence is fulfilled. There is a condition for increasing the length of time that an inmate must serve in good behaviour to be eligible for parole; BUT they still remain eligible.

I had to dig to find that piece of information, which goes to show just how much the Conservatives are burying that. If only because the process of parole shows what hypocrites they are being in terms of time off for days served. Parole invalidates the need to remove time off sentence for days held in remand; so either both have to go, or neither go, as that is the only thing that makes the difference.

Again, I'm not suggesting that we remove parole from our criminal justice system; but if Conservatives want 'truth in sentencing', then parole has to be taken off the table as well.

Furthermore, that brings us to the issue of prisons themselves. Canada's prisons, in many regions, are already suffering from overcrowding. Our legal system, as well, is suffering from a massive backlog wherein criminals do wait ridiculous amounts of time to be found guilty or innocent by a court of law.

Yet, there is no Conservative plan to address this. Obviously, this could be the prelude to the building of new prisons across Canada. After all, if the population in prisons explode than we will need new facilities to house our criminals. However, the Conservatives push this bill as a means of diminishing crime.

Building new prisons suggests that crime is increasing. If this bill leads to new prisons NEEDING to be built, than it has already failed in reducing crime in Canada.

Add to that the fact that our justice system is backlogged on a massive level. Courts across Canada are taking years to bring offenders to trial, simply because they don't have the resources to move them through the system quicker. Yet there has been no Conservative plan to increase the resources of the court.

Which brings me to the next point: Crime rates are lower across the country. The media has pointed this out, academics have pointed this out, and the opposition parties have pointed this out. Sadly, those are three groups that the Conservatives have shown in the past that they don't listen to.

Even the Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, scoffed at the lower crime rates and suggested that the government wasn't legislating based on figures or facts...though he stopped short of admitting it was blind partisan politics that guided them.

And then there's the blind War on Drugs...Possession of marijuana, and its production, will be increased from seven to fourteen years in prison. Many have laughed at this given that the punishment for possession is now sterner than the punishment for abuse of children. The War on Drugs is a failed left over from the 1980s and 1990s, and its a public policy that needs to be pushed to the wayside.

We made progress over things like In-Site, or safe injection sites, under the previous Liberal Government...But the Harper Government has been combating In-Site and safe injection sites since being elected.

The War on Drugs has failed. Even a UN team, which had sitting politicians and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on it, published a paper which suggested it was better (and more cost effective) for countries to legalize certain drugs than it was to combat their spread. Again, I'll cite Prohibition Era America.

Up until the 1920s, the power of the Mafia and organized crime in the US was pretty minimal. It wasn't until prohibition provided these organizations and individuals with a means of controlling a substance (distribution, production, all of it) that they were able to become the powerful organizations that they were.

The same thing happened with drugs. Look at the Mexican Drug cartel, for example.

When you outlaw something, you're playing right into the hands of those who break the law. Drugs make money, like it or not, and it is something that is not going to go away. Unlike prohibition, we've yet to give our heads a collective shake and realize that people are going to want mind-altering substances regardless of whether or not we think they should have them.

As such, we should be moving in a different direction in regards to drug policy than the one the Harper Government is taking us on.

The other major problem with this bill comes in the form of youth crime. The Conservatives have always been more of a 'stick' than 'carrot' kind of government and party, which is why they have perhaps missed the point again.

Conservatives are once again tearing apart the young offender's act in the name of 'safer streets'. They will punish young offenders more harshly, including removing publication bans of their names and faces; and will effectively establish longer services for young adults.

For a government passing parts of this bill that are all about protecting children and minors, they sure are screwing it up with other parts.

There is a movie I'd like to suggest you all see; it is called Boy A, it's a British movie about a young man who was involved in a crime as a young boy. Because of his age, he spent all of his youth in care facilities and when he was released back into the public he was given a new name and moved to a new town.

About midway into the movie, he rescues a woman when he car goes off a road, and him and his work partner become something of local heroes. However, his face is eventually recognized when it is plastered everywhere and the new life he's built for himself comes crashing down around him.

I won't say more than that about it, as it's a damned good movie and an example of what can happen to young offenders when the right precautions aren't taken. Needless to say, the Harper Government is BREEDING criminals with stiffer penalties, and not just for young offenders.

I've said before on this blog, if someone commits a crime at 14 (an age the Conservatives said isn't even old enough to consent to sex, hence why they raised the age of consent to 16) they need to be given some leeway in regards to what they did. We need to understand why they did it, and how we can prevent other youth from making the same life choices.

We all did stupid things at 14; yet this bill would have that person carry their bad choices with them until the day they die. Finding a job in this economy is tough enough without having a criminal record attached to your name. And even if you do manage to get a pardon; yet another thing the Conservatives are going to make harder, someone may always remember your name and what you did as a child.

As such, releasing this sort of information is going to destroy any chance a youth has at forming a normal life as an adult. Which in turn means one thing and one thing alone: They will have to turn to crime in order to survive. As I said, this bill is only going to breed criminals from youths as opposed to reducing youth crime.

Which brings me to my last point: Prisons are not deterrents to crime, in fact, going to prison makes crime rates worse.

According to this study (LINK) offenders who have served in prison are more likely to repeat their offense in the future, as opposed to someone with the same conviction serving outside of prison.

Let me say that again: Someone who goes to prison for a year, on let's say a breaking and entering charge, is more likely to re-offend than someone with the same charge who is placed in community service, or house arrest (another thing Conservatives are getting rid of with this bill.)

So, as it seems, the Conservatives are doing everything possible to making criminals more abundant than less with this crime bill. Their antiquated approach to the criminal justice system is only going to breed more criminals and leave Canada less safe in the years ahead. As such, this bill does not live up to its name in the slightest.

Effectively, if you want to make Canada safer you need to address the problems that create crime in the first place. That means more funding for education and extra-curricular activities to keep youth off the streets and involved in the community. That means addressing poverty and homelessness. That means sensible drug laws that will remove power and funds from criminal organizations.

The Conservatives have failed to consider any of those types of proposals, if only because they all stand against their ideological viewpoints. But those are the most effective ways to cut crime rates.

Look at European countries, with low levels of poverty and great education systems; their crime rates are much lower than anything we post here. Now, you could say that's a coincidence; but that would be like me saying that the green cup on my desk keeps tigers away...Just because there's no tigers, doesn't mean it doesn't work.

If we want to cut crime, we need to address it at the source. We need to be proactive, not reactive.

But if we do need to react, the least the Conservatives could do is put something on the table that would actually reduce crime, not encourage it.

No comments: