Justice Minister Rob Nicholson tells us that the public is not demanding or does not care about evidence-based criminal justice policies. He recently admitted that the federal government pushes tough-on-crime policies such as mandatory minimum sentences
(MMS) to "assuage the anger of law-abiding citizens who believe the system coddles the bad guys" (Macleans, November 9, 2009).
The "get tough on crime" measures proposed by the federal Conservatives have little to do with making Canada a safer place, but much to do with soliciting political support from Canadians who are misinformed about the facts of crime.
- If the legal system is supposedly letting criminals back out on the street too quickly and policing is deteriorating, why has the crime rate in Canada been decreasing steadily since the early 1990s?
- According to Stats Canada’s new "Crime Severity Index", not only has the crime rate been declining, but so has the severity of crime over the past five years. This new measure of tracking the severity of crime contradicts claims that "crime is getting worse".
We should be disturbed the that the Conservative government cannot provide evidence that "get tough" measures actually work to reduce crime. Canadian research by the Department of Justice which assesses the use of jails in several countries tells us that imprisoning more people does not enhance public safety. Sending people to jail increases the likelihood that they will repeat their offenses.
We should protest Mr. Nicholson’s biased perceptions of an apathetic public dictating criminal justice policy. Just as we expect experts to inform health care policy, or that climatologists inform us on global warming, criminologists should be consulted on criminal justice issues. That way, we can avoid expensive and counter-productive criminal justice policies.
I doubt that Canadians are willing to pay for the multi-million dollar expansion of our prison system in a time of declining crime rates. We should be demanding that money be spent on expanding services in health care and educational services.
The government has deemed that wasting your money on futile MMS policies and building new prisons is more important than adequately funding your children’s education, or ensuring that we meet the coming needs of our health care system from an aging population.