Canada needs more crime prevention, not vengeance

Posted on March 8, 2015 in Child & Family Debates – Opinion/Commentary – Conservatives opt for vengeance rather than investing in measures that would prevent violence and actually keep Canadians safer.
Mar 07 2015.   By: Irvin Waller Michael Kempa

The Harper government unveiled a new bill on Wednesday that will force judges and parole officers to send cop killers, terrorists and brutal murderers to prison for life with no hope of release — a redundant move that will be both a rights and public safety disaster.

Canada can already keep murderers and dangerous offenders in prison forever without new laws to force the hand of criminal justice professionals. The killer of the three RCMP officers slain in Moncton was sentenced to life with a minimum of 75 years — what more do we need?

The pending legislation is simply the latest in a string of moves to turn the justice system into a machine for pure vengeance. While perhaps cathartic, vengeance is a misspent emotion — burning the cash that should be invested in what actually prevents violence and keeps front-line cops and communities safe.

For the last 30 years, U.S. politicians tried to outwit the good sense of courts and took their already infamous punitive policies to extremes unknown on the planet. In 1970, there were 500,000 Americans behind bars, today there are 2.2 million — just slightly below the population of Toronto. As a rate proportionate to population, the U.S. locks up seven times more people than Canada.

Equipped with such a formidable vengeance machine, U.S. rates of homicide are still three times ours and four of its cities are among the 50 most violent in the world. And this machine is hungry, gobbling up the biggest proportion of tax revenues in the western world.

Our own vengeance crisis has been brewing: fighting crime by using life sentences comes with a cost — even adding 1,000 prisoners at $100,000 a year for 30 years is $3 billion.

Living in an age with considerable knowledge about what does prevent violence and enhance public safety, this money could be better spent on front-line policing and community crime prevention.

Ironically, the U.S. Department of Justice shares solutions on what is aptly called Among the 327 programs on this website, it has identified 78 “effective” solutions, more than half of which tackle the social roots of crime — such as those to help parents with kids difficult for them to manage, mentor at-risk kids to help them succeed, or teach life skills in schools to reduce adolescent abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Canadians should be aware of these programs.

A report issued by the Council of Canadian Academies last December lamented the lack of research on public safety in Canada. Despite this, two Canadian programs beat the odds to have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice. One is named 4th R because it teaches health relationships to teenagers in school and so reduces sexual assault and bullying. Another is named SNAP because it teaches at-risk kids to stop and plan to avoid being violent. These programs deserve to be in every school and community across Canada.

In addition, a network of cities co-ordinated through Montreal and Waterloo Region have been pioneering the Canadian way to bring social agencies and police together to tackle the roots of violence. Following the trail-blazing work of former Prince Albert, Sask., chief of police Dale McFee (now the province’s deputy minister of corrections and policing), a number of Canadian police chiefs are experimenting with expanding police partnerships with health and education services. The next Toronto police chief must be up to speed on these approaches.

Finally, better training and safety equipment for police officers would of course be welcome. Alphonse MacNeil’s report into the Moncton tragedy, released in mid-January, shows an RCMP lacking in some of the essentials of modern policing — notably in the area of communications technology used to scramble officers in dangerous situations. How much more effective could our police be with an investment in proper equipment, training and civilian oversight?

Putting our money into the front end of criminal justice equivalent to 10 per cent of what we are spending on pure vengeance, we would achieve a 50 per cent reduction in violence over the next five to 10 years and so would likely save hundreds of lives and billions of tax dollars each year. That is providing Canadians with public safety.

Those who push the vengeance agenda seek to own the tough-on-crime vote — but those who seek to put money into what we know makes communities safer are the true champions of public safety and stewards of our taxes.

Irvin Waller is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and author of Smarter Crime Control, which inspired this article. Michael Kempa is also an Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and is seeking the federal Liberal nomination for Scarborough Southwest.

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One Response to “Canada needs more crime prevention, not vengeance”

  1. jennie says:

    This article encompasses so many issues within Canada, the battle between being preventative or reactive relates to so many aspects of Canadian society. Specifically with crime there is a lot of evidence proving that preventative and educational efforts make more of a difference then reactive and yet because it costs more upfront there is resistance to do this. I believe the issue of crime prevention needs to begin with educational efforts starting at a young age, so often we hear the children of today are the adults of tomorrow, why not take the time to make sure that they are educated and understand the consequences to their actions before they make the decision rather than the education and understanding coming too late. Another topic that is not directly talked about within this article that I wish was, is diversion. Currently there is multiple types of diversion that a person can go through, youth diversion, youth mental health diversion, as well as both options for adults. This is a program that has many supporting statistics behind it yet it is not used as often as it should be. Diversion is already being funded and that funding is being under used in many areas, there needs to be education for the professionals – police, judges and crowns, on diversion so that more people get to take advantage of this service that could help to have people reoffend less often and keep people off of probation.


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