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Tough on crime but short on logic

March 21, 2010

….All this is happening at a time when Canada’s crime rate is at a
26-year-low; when a dozen cash-strapped U.S. states are closing jails,
reducing sentences and diverting drug addicts from prison; and when
there’s a growing body of evidence – including a government-financed
report released last month – that the anti-crime policies Harper has
embraced produce little public benefit.

It is no mystery why
the governing Conservatives don’t want to talk about this issue. Harper
is promoting himself as a prudent economic manager. Finance Minister
Jim Flaherty is warning it will take four years of “difficult”
belt-tightening to phase out Ottawa’s $54 billion deficit. A sharp rise
in prison costs, in the middle of an austerity drive, would be awkward
to explain.

What is less understandable is that neither the
Liberals nor New Democrats are rigorously challenging Harper’s
tough-on-crime agenda.

When the Liberals were in power,
they shifted the correctional system toward rehabilitation programs,
community supervision, drug treatment and restorative justice.

The New Democrats were even more inclined to divert offenders – especially young ones – from jail.

both parties know it costs roughly $95,000 a year to keep an offender
in jail. (Community supervision costs $23,500 a year.)

they know aboriginal Canadians make up 18 per cent of federal inmates
(compared with 4 per cent of the adult population) and black Canadians
constitute 6 per cent of federal prisoners (compared with 2 per cent of
the population.)

Surely they’ve seen the reams of studies
questioning the effectiveness of crackdowns, harsh sentences that mix
young offenders with hardened criminals.

But both Michael
Ignatieff and Jack Layton are so fearful of being labelled “soft on
crime” that they’ve said little, denying the public a badly needed
national debate.

The warning signs are clear, yet Canada’s parliamentarians choose to ignore them.

Read the whole column.


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