Crime series sparks passions – Opinion/letters – Crime series sparks passions
July 26, 2008

Re:Crime & Punishment, Eight-part series, July 19-26

Forget about trying to use or quote statistics to prove that tougher enforcement has no effect on crime. There are many factors that influence crime rates. The effect of modest increases in the length of sentences will be drowned out by the cumulative weight of all the other factors.

Instead, look at some really extreme examples. In authoritarian, totalitarian regimes, the deterrent is much higher than in any Western country and crime rates are indeed lower. In some African and South American countries, where the policing is much less effective, crimes rates are much higher than here.

The poverty-incarceration cycle you refer to is inaccurate. A more accurate cycle would be poverty-crime-incarceration. To break the cycle, you must break the link between poverty and crime. To break the link between crime and punishment would just lead to chaos. Crime rates would rise far beyond the current rates.

The basic inarguable fact is that if a man is behind bars, he can’t threaten, coerce, steal or murder out in the community. We must not entertain a system where dangerous criminals are given a slap on the wrist and allowed to continue as before simply because liberals don’t like the optics of our current justice system.

Dave Keeley, Mississauga

Finally, a crime story that’s about more than just selling papers!

The John Howard Societies of Ontario want to commend the Star on its excellent Crime & Punishment series. We admire your reporters’ ability to see beyond moral outrage and uncover the realities of criminal justice and related social issues.

One issue that has not been highlighted in this series is the huge and growing number of people who are incarcerated but not convicted of any crime.

On any given day, almost two-thirds of the people in Ontario’s prisons are held on remand – awaiting trial or sentencing. They are warehoused in overcrowded, expensive and unhealthy maximum-security settings, receive little or no programming or treatment, and have few opportunities to make positive life changes.

This “dead time,” often spent in isolated mega-jails far from home, takes Ontarians away from their economic and social responsibilities. For some, pre-trial detention and exposure to the prison subculture means an increased likelihood of criminal behaviour in the future. For others, it means loss of housing and employment, increased severity of existing mental health concerns and social isolation.

As the Star’s series clearly explains, there is credible research to support the use of better methods of dealing with crime than simply building more prisons. Prisons require disproportionate amounts of our tax dollars to build and operate. The dollars saved by increasing the use of safe community sanctions can be invested in areas that address the root causes of crime and benefit generations to come – in our classrooms, our health-care systems and our communities.

And that’s called crime prevention.

Paula Osmok, John Howard Society of Ontario, Greg Rogers, John Howard Society of Toronto

Once upon a time, a man was accused of (among other things) treason, a capital crime. He was duly tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in a particularly nasty way, in order to discourage anybody who might want to follow his example – in short, he received due process through a punitive justice system. that, by the rationale of the “tough on crime” advocates, should have been the last anybody heard of him.

It doesn’t seem to have worked very well. Many people in the past two millennia have tried to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth.

Chris Cosby, Scarborough

Yours is a great and long overdue series on crime and I commend you on its rigorous level of research, thoroughness of context and eloquence of expression.

In terms of what can be done about crime from the community perspective, three things must happen:

First, the business community must get involved both in terms of funding programs and of leading the way through its combined energies, passions and networks.

Next, it is important to ensure that at-risk youth are channeled into skills-based programs to “ignite a passion” and lead to higher education or employment opportunities. Life and job skills need to be taught to all youth, especially those who are in trouble with the law.

Finally, for more serious troubled youth coming out of custody settings or on the brink of incarceration, there is a need for proper integration tools to give kids a vision for their lives. This is done through life-planning, intensive coaching and serious community/peer mentoring. Otherwise, when these kids are released back into their communities and come face to face with the same temptations that originally led them astray, they will always struggle.

David Lockett, co-founder and volunteer, PACT Youth Crime Reduction Program, Toronto

Thank you for a very informative article about the problems faced by individuals who may have past dealings with the police when they are asked to get a clearance letter by prospective employers.

One of the issues is that the clearance letter not only includes past convictions, or even charges, but also contacts with the police when there are mental-health issues involved. This in particular is of grave concern from the human rights and privacy law perspectives.

Whatever justification one might have to ask for the “criminal” past of a person, there is no excuse whatsoever to force a victim of domestic violence to reveal her troubling home life.

This tell-all police policy must stop immediately.

Avvy Yao-Yao Go, clinic director,

Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Toronto

As both an aboriginal person and a law student, having a collective of journalists explore how the criminal justice system fails aboriginal people makes me feel hopeful that we are not alone in our struggle for justice.

I sincerely appreciate your acknowledgment of the “plethora of social and economic ills” responsible for the unhealthy and often dangerous living situations many aboriginal people experience.

Although I agree that the Canadian criminal justice system is failing aboriginal people, I think that law more generally can do much to help. The Tsuu T’ina and the Siksika have had success with alternative approaches to conflict resolution focused on community harmony and wellness instead of individual punishment.

The legal legacy of colonialism took hold of the lives of aboriginal people in Johnson v. McIntosh and continues today. But I believe that if we work together and respect the institutions of aboriginal people, the future for aboriginals and criminal justice will be very different from the past.

I thank you for taking a position. I thank Jonathan Napoose for his willingness to share his story. I thank the Great Spirit for all I have been given, and for helping me to share it.

Aaron Mills, Toronto

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