In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Crime and Punishment

Posted 9/8/2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell


Our politics has been reduced to simple messaging. Truth is often obscured by sound bites and gimmicks. This is the case in the ‘soft on crime’ refrain that we frequently hear. It is immensely tiring and very dangerous because it distracts people from the facts and allows decisions to be made that are categorically wrong.

The ‘soft on crime’ charge seems to mean that you are against harsher penalties for all criminals, and that tougher sentences are the only way to reduce crime.

Evidence does not at all support the reasoning that tougher penalties reduce crime. For instance, during President Bush’s ‘hard on crime’ tenure the number of incarcerated individuals increased from 583 to 762 per 100,000 people. Crime rates, however, stayed the same. During the same time in Canada, incarceration remained the same at around 100 per 100,000 population and crime rates actually decreased.

The fear I have is that the current government wants to keep increasing sentences while paying no regard to the real causes of crime. They also fail to acknowledge the huge increase in costs of new jails and the delays in our justice system. This is all in the context that harsher sentences are more likely to increase crime than to reduce it.

I come back to the real causes of crime. Imagine how few people would be in jails if we could further address poverty, physical and sexual abuse, addiction, mental health problems, domestic and learning disabilities.

Harsher sentences are a gut reaction against crime. But evidence shows us that they do not actually reduce crime rates. To do that, we must turn our focus away from sound bite politics and actually work on addressing much more difficult issues in our society.

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