Harper’s crime bill needs cost-effective prevention

Posted on October 24, 2011 in Child & Family Debates

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TheGlobeandMail.com –
Published Monday, Oct. 24, 2011.    Irvin Waller

The Harper government has promised to fight for victims of crime. Canadians will get a lot more expensive reaction, but how about cost-effective prevention as well? Parliament should add a Crime Reduction Board to the government’s omnibus crime bill.

The Minister of Justice has rightly stressed the need for action to respond to the 440,000 violent crimes and 1.3 million property crimes known to the police. Public Safety Canada provides a website with examples of effective precrime prevention programs that have stopped crime before citizens became victims, but these are not yet being used from coast to coast. The Crime Reduction Board would get effective crime prevention and fair services and rights for victims of crime for all Canadians.

The World Health Organization agrees. It has shown how violence has been reduced significantly by precrime prevention, such as helping teens at risk complete school, controlling the abuse of alcohol and improving parenting. We already have our own compelling Canadian success stories that illustrate the power of co-operation among police, youth services, schools, academics, insurance companies and others.

In Winnipeg, the number of victims of car thefts has been reduced by 83 per cent through the Auto Theft Suppression Strategy that combines smart enforcement, victim protection and precrime prevention. Their investment of $50-million has been recovered, and now $40-million is saved annually because fewer victims are harmed by cars driven out of control.

In Southwestern Ontario, sexual assaults have been reduced through the use of an innovative new curriculum in schools called the Fourth R: Relationship-Based Violence Prevention. This program could be employed on a national scale to significantly cut the number of women who will be victims of violence.

Alberta has its own provincial leadership centre to manage a comprehensive and evidence-based crime reduction and community safety strategy that balances smart enforcement, treatment programs and effective precrime prevention. Saskatchewan announced a similar framework in September. Their association of police chiefs praised the initiative for using intervention and prevention in collaboration with partner agencies. The United Nations has recommended such centres.

Some are ahead of us. In Glasgow, the police turned to a public health vision to reduce harm to victims. This team approach is now the national Violence Reduction Unit of the Scottish executive; it has demonstrated a 50-per-cent reduction in violent crime through a combination of smart enforcement and precrime prevention. England and Wales legislated its Youth Justice Board in 1998, demonstrating significant reductions in youth crime as a result of extensive use of precrime youth-inclusion programs. Their success with 70 projects led to the programs’ spreading across the U.K.

A permanent Crime Reduction Board would benefit Canadians by implementing these winning strategies from coast to coast. It would spearhead implementation, including a national framework and collaboration with provinces, municipal governments, police agencies and much more. It would develop national standards and foster Canadian capacity to learn from each other’s successes.

We must also get serious about funding precrime prevention. The current federal budget for the National Crime Prevention Centre is $50-million. You can’t expect this to achieve what $5-billion federally on policing and prisons have not done in reducing harm to victims.

In the 1990s, parliamentary committees recommended an additional 5 per cent – $250-million. But that was before we had the strong evidence we have today. There’s a compelling case for matching 10 per cent of the federal police and corrections budgets as an annual investment in preventing violence. Just think what we could do to decimate the harm to victims with $500-million for proven precrime prevention.

The Minister of Justice has rightly drawn attention to the $83-billion of harm each year to crime victims, and he’s prepared to pay federally, provincially and municipally for countering this harm. If the federal government matched every additional dollar for prisons with another dollar for prevention and victim rights, Canada would become one of the safest countries in the world – and cost-effectively!

Irvin Waller, a professor at the University of Ottawa, is president of the International Organization for Victim Assistance. He is author of Rights for Victims of Crime: Rebalancing Justice and Less Law, More Order: The Truth about Reducing Crime.

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