The cost of crime


Bruces Foster and Ravelli argue the government is pursuing crime from the wrong angle.

Canada’s Criminal Code is already thick with laws that have lengthy sentences, yet people commit crimes every day. What our laws do not address are the root causes of crime, and the under-reporting of these crimes. For example, there is nothing in Bill C-10 that will assist an abused spouse to leave their relationship, nothing to support the child who is abused by their parent, nothing to address alleged systemic racism in the criminal justice system, nothing to address why people choose to not report their victimization, nothing to deter white collar crime.

When we hear the government is “getting tough on crime”, we want to believe the result will help improve the overall safety and wellbeing of Canadians. However, if we were to review the research (much of which was funded by the Government of Canada), we would understand that a more sound approach would be to take the billions of dollars earmarked for this bill and spend it on prevention and support programs. Every dollar wasted on ineffective law-and-order measures is money that could have been spent addressing the social and economic forces that drive the desperate into lives of crime.

Dan Gardner notes one potential absurdity of the government’s omnibus crime bill.

Now look at that first mandatory minimum sentence again: It means that anyone who grows six marijuana plants with the intention of sharing even a single joint with a friend will be guilty of an offence punishable with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail.

And remember the phrase “real property that belongs to a third party”? That’s what a rented apartment is. Imagine a university student living in a rented apartment with her boyfriend, suggests University of Toronto criminologist Tony Doob. She grows a single marijuana plant. She rolls a joint for her and her boyfriend. And just like that she’s a “trafficker” subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of nine months in jail.


The cost of crime

  1. You’d actually be better off taking that money and subsidizing youth employment programmes, ranging from trail clearing/building to community clean up to tree planting totrades training. Yes, it would cost an awful lot of money and create inefficiencies but at least it might offer some hope of legal skills learned before they enter prison rather then nefarious ones learned or honed once they’ve gone trhough convict training boot camp.  If we aren’t prepared to target the necessary resources to getting the majority of non serious offenders out of prisons with marketable skills then increasing the intake through MMs is simply immoral and galactically stupid.
    Petty crime is mostly a young persons hobby and a function of demographics… Idle hands and the devils work…As Neil Boyd argues lets target dangerous criminals, keep the minority of truly serious criminals off the streets; while attempting to save as many of those wretches as we can reasonably afford to do.

  2. Dr. Bruce Foster and Dr. Bruce Ravelli are really quite charming in their naïveté, aren’t they? The fact that good, government research shows that “a more sound approach” to the problem of crime “would be to take the billions of dollars earmarked for this bill and spend it on prevention and support programs” is completely irrelevent. No amount of good, reasonable studies can possibly outweigh the clamour of  fearful Tory supporters — it’s their perceptions of crime and justice that must ultimately be catered to, no matter how inaccurate. After all, someone has to keep the Conservatve Party of Canada in the black, and they’re the ones who write the cheques.

  3. Well we know nothing about the Harper govt is knowledge-based…it’s all emotion.

    So why should we expect them to be any different about crime?

  4. I think Dan Gardner sums it up best at the bottom of his article.  Mandatory minimums do not remove discretion from the justice system, it merely transfers it from the judge who picks the sentence to the prosecutor who picks the charge.

    And if this is the case, what do mandatory minimums accomplish?  Either the prosecutors do exercise the reasonable discretion the judges to date have been exercising and nothing really changes from the status quo, or they do not use discretion and we send university students with one pot plant to jail for a minimum 9 months, which is a horrible use of tax dollars and which I think would create for a significant PR snafu for the Tories if such a prosecution/conviction were to actually occur.

    • And don’t forget it also transfers discretion to the individual police officers who let the “good kids” go but use the law selectively to bust people they think are “trouble makers.” The problem is in who the police define as trouble makers, and they are way more likley to apply these kinds of laws to African Amercians in the U.S. and First Nations people in Canada.

  5. I’m sure it has nothing to do with privatizing the prison industry, nothing at all!

  6. Let’s not mince words, we’d be better off dumping wheelbarrows full of $20 bills off the top of tall buildings than spending it on something that is going to grow the crime problem AND increase the cost of maintaining crime at a higher level.

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