Omnibus crime bill misses the mark

TheStar.com – opinion/letters
Published On Thu Nov 17 2011.    Dr. Laura Clark, Toronto

Why is the current federal government intent on speedily passing a crime bill that is expensive, misses the point and will make our society more polarized? Crime is down, Canada is a safe country, yet they continue to push this notion that the streets are dangerous.

There is no question that some crimes are so horrific and some offenders so incorrigible they do need to be kept incarcerated for long periods, but by and large I think we can make our justice system more efficient and cost effective with smart rehabilitation programs.

In many cases, people do criminal things because they are desperate. Desperate for money to get out of poverty, they sell drugs. Desperate to feed the drug habit that they use to escape their powerless life, they steal. Desperate to feed their family, they prostitute themselves. Of course many of these paths lead to violence — the sad irony for people who are struggling to survive.

Putting these criminals in jail for long sentences, while in the short term making us feel safer, leads to worse outcomes. Texas and other jurisdictions are telling us this scheme doesn’t work; the Canadian Bar Association says this plan will worsen the justice system.

It just doesn’t make sense to jail an 18-year-old drug dealer, and then release him or her in five or 10 years and imagine that they will suddenly be a law-abiding citizen. How can they when they haven’t learned how?

But if those years are used to teach that person how to live without drugs, to treat their depression, how to care for their family, how to manage their finances, how to get a job, then the chances seem much better that that person can survive without turning to crime, and not re-offend.

People want to be able to take care of themselves and their family, and do this in dignity. If we can enable offenders to do it without returning to crime, then our society truly will feel safer.

Dr. Laura Clark, Toronto

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