Once a criminal, always a criminal


Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob get tough on the Harper government’s “tough on crime” approach to justice policy.

Imprisoning a few thousand more people may prevent the few street crimes they might have committed had they not been incarcerated, but what about the impact of imprisonment on the chances of their reoffending after release? The data comparing recidivism rates for former inmates with those for offenders given non-prison punishments demonstrates conclusively that incarceration does not decrease reoffending. In fact, for some offenders — notably those sent to prison for the first time — it may increase it. Averting a few crimes while convicts serve their sentences in prison doesn’t help if more crimes are committed when they are released.

But this is not about policy; it’s about politics. Advocating for “tough on offenders” bills makes for good bumper stickers and sound bites, even if it violates one of the government’s economic principles: that public money should not be spent on programs that do not advance its stated goals. Keeping a single inmate in federal penitentiary costs about $117,000 per year; a provincial inmate about $58,000. Money spent on incarceration is money not spent on services (the police, education, public health, and so on) that the evidence suggests would be more effective at reducing crime.


Once a criminal, always a criminal

  1. Gotta love Harper’s ignorance-based approach to governing. It’s completely rock-solid. When his government is not ignorant of the facts, it either ignores them or wages a war against them. When something goes wrong they can pin the blame on someone else or create a distraction. Why bother to keep up with the latest information when ideology is so much simpler and easier? If it creates a big mess, all the better: just more proof that democratic government is bad for society.

  2. Here’s where the lawyers get it so wrong, thinking that evidence will sway the judge.

  3. This is laughable logic that could only come from a defense lawyer and a “criminologist”. By looking only at recidivism rates, they (wrongly) are suggesting that the only factor to be considered in sentencing is rehabilitation. Denunciation and Deterrence must also be factored in, and the only way to do that most of the time is through a prison sentence.

    “Averting a few crimes while convicts serve their sentences in prison doesn’t help if more crimes are committed when they are released.” – I would also take issue with this statement. Avoiding some crime in the present does help. If that offender is released and re-offends, it’s simply an indicator that the sentence wasn’t harsh enough to begin with. At that point it’s clear that the sentence failed in regards to rehabilitation and deterrence.

    As for the second paragraph, I find it simply laughable that these two so-called educated individuals would suggest that we spend less money on incarcerating criminals, just so we can spend more money on cops to chase them around. What exactly are the cops supposed to do after they catch a criminal if nobody is going to lock them up for committing a crime? Call a criminologist to get to the bottom of the matter?

    • Once again, because you never seem to get the point: harsher sentences don’t deter crimes, because criminals don’t base their behavior on the sentencing provisions of the criminal code.

      Spending more money on cops is what actually deters criminal behavior, because would be criminals look at the cops all over the place and go, “Shit, I can’t see any way to do this without getting caught.”

      Spending money on more police is tough on crime. Spending money on more incarceration is simply tough on criminals.

      To suggest that nobody is going to lock them up for committing a crime is simply showing your ignorance. Most sentences imposed by judges are actually longer than the stated minimums. Shorter sentences only tended to be imposed where there were extreme mitigating factors.

      Your solution is simply naive, since the only way to provide a guarantee of no recidivism is permanent imprisonment, as statistics have also shown that likelihood of recidivism is correlated directly with length of prison sentence. Quite simply, prison is criminal training school. The longer we keep them in, the more likely they are to be fully fledged criminals when they “graduate”

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