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Soft on evidence


 

Our John Geddes looks at the government’s crime policies.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson doesn’t offer up any departmental research at all to support the Tories’ major law-and-order thrust. Nor does Nicholson rely on reports by independent experts to buttress his case for telling judges how long they must lock up criminals for a slew of offences. Instead, in response to requests from Maclean’s for any analysis or data justifying the new minimum sentences, his office produced a 1,000-word memo explaining the policy. It candidly admits that research doesn’t offer persuasive evidence that mandatory minimum penalties, called MMPs for short, reduce crime. “In our opinion,” it says, “the studies are inconclusive particularly with respect to the main debate: do MMPs deter crime?”

If they can’t be shown to act as a deterrent, why put MMPs at the core of the government’s high-profile anti-crime push? Nicholson offers a list of seven other reasons … The top item on Nicholson’s seven-point list: “ensure victims feel that justice has been rendered.” And the second: “ensure that the amount of time served is proportional to the gravity of the offence” … This seemingly irrefutable line of reasoning, however, rests on the premise that the government knows sentences now being handed down by the courts are too light. In fact, they often haven’t bothered to collect that information. Nicholson’s office and his departmental officials admit they have not compiled statistics on typical sentences in convictions for most of the crimes they’ve targeted for MMPs. And it’s not always clear the new minimum terms will be any tougher than the sentences often imposed up to now.


 

Soft on evidence

  1. Soft on evidence…oh dear you are a sucker for punishment Aaron.

  2. When is someone going to have a look at criminologists and their liberal policies which have lead to crime skyrocketing in Canada since the 1960s? When is someone going present evidence that criminologists and their quackery are not leading to even higher crime rates?

    • Almost as soon as we introduced comment boards on the Maclean's blogs, the world was plunged into recession. It's hard to see now how we managed to miss the link.

    • Crime has not been skyrocketing in Canada since the 1960s. With the exception of an early-90s uptick in homicides, which fell right back to earth, crime has been falling in almost all categories since 1974. Especially violent crime.

      PS: Criminologists study crime and the effect of policies on crime. They don't make policies. Politicians do.

      • Do you make these facts up as you go along or do you actually believe crime has been decreasing since 1974?

        http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/070718/d

        As to the claim that crime has been decreasing since the 1990s, do you think people not reporting crimes has anything to do with this supposed decrease?

        " Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts the General Social Survey. It asks a representative sample of Canadians, among other things, whether they have been crime victims.

        From the last survey in 2004 (the next one is being conducted now, with the findings to be released next year) Statistics Canada reached the following conclusions.

        First, progressively fewer Canadians who are crime victims are reporting the crime to police — only 34% in 2004, compared to 37% in 1999.

        Second, based on the GSS, an estimated 92% of sexual assaults were never reported to police, 46% of break-ins, 51% of motor vehicle/parts thefts, 61% of physical assaults and 54% of robberies." The Sun, Oct 22 '09

      • Do you make these facts up as you go along or do you actually believe crime has been decreasing since 1974?

        http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/070718/d

        As to the claim that crime has been decreasing since the 1990s, do you think people not reporting crimes has anything to do with this supposed decrease?

        " Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts the General Social Survey. It asks a representative sample of Canadians, among other things, whether they have been crime victims.

        From the last survey in 2004 (the next one is being conducted now, with the findings to be released next year) Statistics Canada reached the following conclusions.

        First, progressively fewer Canadians who are crime victims are reporting the crime to police — only 34% in 2004, compared to 37% in 1999.

        Second, based on the GSS, an estimated 92% of sexual assaults were never reported to police, 46% of break-ins, 51% of motor vehicle/parts thefts, 61% of physical assaults and 54% of robberies." The Sun, Oct 22 '09

        • Interesting links. It does indicate that violent crime overall decreased 1996-2006, particulary at the most serious levels (murder and attempted murder).

          What surprised me was that, contrary to the perception of violent crime as mainly a big-city/gang-associated thing, crime rates in Ontario and Quebec, which have the two largest cities, were fairly low, but ones in the Western provinces (and Nova Scotia) were high, with Saskatchewan being highest – and the violent crime rates were higher outside cities (eg, the BC violent crime rate overall was higher than the rate in Vancouver).

          Maybe the Tories are more focused on crime because it's a bigger problem in the regions where their constituents are. The Liberals don't see it as a big issue because their voters aren't in places where it is a big issue.

          Either way, we should be looking at what Ontario and Quebec are doing right in terms of crime policy.

          • The Tories are focused on crime because they know perfectly well that hug-a-thug policies are only popular with well off liberals who rarely have to deal with criminals/crime.

          • "Hug-a-thug." That's good. I look forward to using it one day after I steal your identity.

          • Crime: down, year over year.

            Fear of crime: excellent vote-mover for seniors and women with young children (be afraid, don't pay attention to statistics, vote for us because the other guys support pedophiles and child snatchers).

            Evidence that Canada has weak sentencing laws compared to other developed nations: totally absent from this debate.

            Evidence that sentence length has a deterrent effect on offenders: also missing.

            Violent crime hotspots in Canada: 19 of top 20 cities for homicides are west of Kenora. (Sorry Halifax.)

          • Crime is an issue in cities, though it is as much an issue of perception as it is an issue of numbers.

            Crime rates are higher outside of cities because there are fewer people living outside of cities. Ten out of one million is a lower per capita rate (which is what these are) than ten out of 10,000.

            As for Jolyon – if we assume that reporting was indeed 34-37% of all crimes between 1999 and 2004, then yes, the crime rate did go up:

            1999: 7,752/100,000 = 37% of crimes (so 100% would theoretically be 20,951 if my math is right)
            2004: 8,162/100,000 = 34% of crimes (so 100% would theoretically be 24,006 again, if math is right)

            Assuming (falsely) a constant population, yes, the crime rate did increase between 1999 and 2004, but, it did drop thereafter. Potential reasons wherefore the increase: confusions surrounding decriminalization of marijuana; improved counterfeit detection technologies and emphasis on those crimes; launching of YCJA. I could also point out methodological considerations between comparing GSS and other data sources, but that's a little hypertechnical for our purposes.

          • "it did drop thereafter."

            How do you know this? The trend is fewer and fewer people are reporting crimes because they don't have faith in justice system to do anything. When we reach stage that no one reports crimes anymore, and StatsCan says our crime rate is 12 per 100,000 or somesuch, does that mean crime has disappeared from Canada?

          • The trend is fewer and fewer people are reporting crimes because they don't have faith in justice system to do anything.

            Most crimes don't get reported because they're too petty.

          • "Second, based on the GSS, an estimated 92% of sexual assaults were never reported to police, 46% of break-ins, 51% of motor vehicle/parts thefts, 61% of physical assaults and 54% of robberies." The Sun, Oct 22 '09

            Which crimes are the petty ones, Robert?

          • With the exception of sexual assaults, many of the crimes in these categories tend to be either petty or forgivable.

          • Two GSS data points does not a trend make. According to the link that Katherine provided, rate of crime dropped after 2004. Please also keep in mind that we probably shouldn't even be comparing GSS reported victimization to Uniform Reporting Survey data, seeing as how only half of their measurement points are comparable.

            And, your own original link to Statscan's Daily release has a nice little subhead: "Crime rates down in all provinces and territories."

            Oh…and http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_researc… would suggest that crime reporting is dependent predominantly on the characteristics of the incident, not the person's views of the justice system.

            Also: the quotes you got from the Calgary Sun appear to be overstated. The documentation (here: http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:_e8e… suggests that 1. It's only a slight drop and 2. Over half of those not reporting violent incidents do not do so because they don't believe it's important enough – not because of some perceived failure of the justice system. Reporting rates for property crimes were around 50%.

            For whatever reason, time after time significant majorities have said that they are confident in the police, feel safe in their neighbourhood, etc, etc.

          • "Two GSS data points does not a trend make."

            The two data points cover 10 years, so if people have been reporting crimes less often over the course of a decade I think that qualifies as a trend.

            "time after time significant majorities have said that they are confident in the police, feel safe in their neighbourhood,"

            Just because you write it does not make it true.

            "More than three-quarters of Toronto residents believe lenient judges are allowing gun crime to flourish in Canada's cities, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the National Post and Global News." NatPost, Jan '06

            "Canadians across the country overwhelmingly believe that the country's justice system is too lenient on repeat offenders, a new poll released today by CTV and The Strategic Counsel reveals." Feb '08

            "A recently-released government poll shows Canadians believe the rights of an accused person in the justice system trump those of the people they've committed crimes against." CanWest Oct '07

            "Recent setbacks at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) appear to have affected the way Canadians feel about the institution, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found. Two-in-five (42%) respondents say their confidence in the internal operations and leadership of the RCMP has decreased over the past two years." Angus Reid Apr '07

          • Take a statistics course, will you? Two data points does not a trend make. It doesn't matter how lengthy the interval, two points is not a trend.

            And I was referring to confidence in the police, and feeling safe in one's neighbourhood. Have a look at http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid… or http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2007/r… or http://www.justice.gov.ab.ca/publications/justice… or http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid… (and others), and stop accusing people who disagree with you of making stuff up.

          • Two GSS data points does not a trend make. According to the link that Katherine provided, rate of crime dropped after 2004. Please also keep in mind that we probably shouldn't even be comparing GSS reported victimization to Uniform Reporting Survey data, seeing as how only half of their measurement points are comparable.

            And, your own original link to Statscan's Daily release has a nice little subhead: "Crime rates down in all provinces and territories."

            Oh…and http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_researc… would suggest that crime reporting is dependent predominantly on the characteristics of the incident, not the person's views of the justice system.

            Also: the quotes you got from the Calgary Sun appear to be overstated. The documentation (here: http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:_e8e… suggests that 1. It's only a slight drop and 2. Over half of those not reporting violent incidents do not do so because they don't believe it's important enough – not because of some perceived failure of the justice system. Reporting rates for property crimes were around 50%.

            For whatever reason, time after time significant majorities have said that they are confident in the police, feel safe in their neighbourhood, etc, etc.

        • Althought this is interesting, and I intend to read more and think on it in detail later [I'm taking a break from figuring out excel formulas], your original comment posits that liberal [undefined] policies are the cause for an increase in crime [which you do not qualify as decreasing since the mid-90's, interestingly enough under Chretien's gov'ts]. Are you quipping, or do you truly believe that the study of crime, and the policy suggestions that result from this study, is responsible solely for the increase in crime in the statistics you quote? Furthermore, if you believe that criminology is comprised of quacks, to whom would you turn then for information and policy suggestions? How would you recommend Parliament draft policy and legislation as affects the Criminal Code? Do you think that criminology, as a whole, is comprised of liberals and quacks, or that a significant majority of liberals and quacks dominates the field? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Is the entire system of peer review, which I can only presume has some sway with criminology and criminologists, compromised by criminals buying 'em off so they may enjoy their ill-gotten gains without fear of sanction?

          • "Are you quipping, or do you truly believe that the study of crime, and the policy suggestions that result from this study, is responsible solely for the increase in crime in the statistics you quote?"

            I am serious. Crime rates have skyrocketed since justice system started to worry about underlying causes, focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment … etc.

            Here's another blurb from Sun article that I am using:

            "Back before then Liberal solicitor-general Jean-Pierre Goyer, complaining about the high cost of keeping criminals in prison, advised Parliament in 1971 that: "The present situation results from the fact that (the) protection of society has received more emphasis than the rehabilitation of inmates. Consequently, we have decided from now on to stress the rehabilitation of offenders, rather than the protection of society."

            I don't believe rehabilitation works, or it only works with insignificant number of criminals. I believe justice system is meant to protect citizens from criminals and I don't give a monkey's about criminals home life when they were four years old when it comes time for punishment.

        • The cherry picking business seems to be recession proof.

  3. There's "evidence" to support that giving children candy makes them more violent later in life. Want to prosecute sugar factories, too?

  4. Interesting points. I'm all for increased minimum sentences, and for mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes – but if they're not going to reduce likelihood of re-offence, or simply drive up costs of housing prisoners, why choose "x" years over "y" years?

    I'd be interested to see a study on why certain parolees or those released from prison re-offend, and what programs are, or could be put in place, to prevent such things. Prison is step 1, but it surely isn't the end-all solution.

    • When our goverment makes policy up by the seat of its collective pants, then evidence one way the other really doesn't matter.

      • I'm inclined to agree, but bringing up the "This Government Hates Science!!" attacks again seemed so 2007.

        The trouble with quantitative data is that, once reported, there's an implied impetus to act on it, whether or not any action is really supported by the data. It's that whole, let's not use polls like drunks use lampposts theory. Can't just govern by numbers, much though I believe it may be warranted here…

  5. Darnit. Well, here's the link to it.

  6. "The top item on Nicholson's seven-point list: “ensure victims feel that justice has been rendered.”
    ——————————————–

    Remember it doesn't have to be true, it just has to be plausible.

        • Mencken FTW.

          H. L. Mencken, known for his "definitions" of terms, defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."

  7. Why are all of you discussing crime statistics? This has nothing to do with public policy. The Conservatives don't care about such things. The boys are playing "sword and shields" in the yard as the Press Gallery enthusiastically cheers them on, and Canadian society will pay the price (literally) for this folly.

  8. Instead of paying $100,000 per inmate per year for room and board, let's triple our drug treatment facility capacity and see how much money we save while lowering crime rates.

    Legalize and tax marijuana, and the system would not only pay for itself, but increase government revenues through a consumption tax that could reduce taxes elsewhere.

    • But if pot were legal, wouldn't worker productivity slump, thereby reducing the tax take elsewhere?

      Though I suppose a stiff tax on munchies might make up the difference….

      • I forget where this reply was going.

  9. Sta's mean absolutley nothing when it's your house broken into … or .. when it's you or a loved one that is assaulted .. or … when soemone you know is a victim and the perpetrator gets off with house arrest … or … or … or …. there seem to be alot of people that do not get the conservative approach and it has nothing to do with stats or anything else excpet ONE PRINCIPLE = that the victim has rights as well as the criminal .. case closed .. and apparently a growing number of canadians agree with my party .. hey anyone notice the bi-elections not being analyzed here? I wonder why the silence all of a sudden from the liberal pundits – cat got the tongue?

    • Perhaps because there's other threads devoted specifically to the by-elections? Hey, has anybody noticed the attempt to change topics from one that shows the conservative don't believe in using evidence to make decisions?

    • So instead of basing policy on facts and data we just go for unsubstantiated assertions and retribution. How Taliban of you.

    • Wow, if only you were here in person to spray food particles as you go off on your conservative rant, it would be just like holidays with my stepmother's extended hillbilly family.

      By the way, I don't what kind of elections you've been participating in, but I've seen plenty of by-election coverage.

  10. All this discussion brings to mind this: If those supporting mandatory minimums believe that crime stats are underreported due to victims perception that reporting doesn't achieve anything (i.e. justice system won't achieve anything), should we then expect more crimes to be reported if mandatory minimums are implemented, and thus result in an increase of the reported crime rate? So then the talking point could be, MMT leads to increase in crime rates.

  11. Soft on evidence and soft on crime.

    The Conservatives are only hard on criminals, not crime.

    Results matter in the real world and should matter in the policy world. But as we learned from Ian Brodie, Harper's former chief of staff, politics and optics trumped sound policy decisions in Harper's office.

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