Tories take wrong road on crime
By Mark Holland, Liberal critic for public safety and national security
The Harper government claims to be "tough on crime," but their discredited U.S.-style policies on crime and punishment are making Canadians less safe.
Their ineffective and costly plan, entitled A Roadmap to Public Safety, should more accurately be entitled A Roadmap to Public Disaster.
Modelled after failed American policies even diehard Republicans now admit are an abject failure, it will result in more prisons and longer sentences, while doing nothing to reduce recidivism. When over 90% of the prison population will be released, the Harper government's failure to seriously invest in vital programming needed for rehabilitation and reintegration, including substance abuse treatment and mental illness care, is nothing short of reckless.
The reality is Correctional Services Canada's own statistics show more than 10% of the federal prison population suffers from mental illnesses, and more than 60% have addictions issues. These inmates often need to be separated from the regular offenders, receive no programming, and are released back onto the streets directly from segregation. How can this result in anything other than more dangerous offenders who are likely to reoffend?
If more and longer sentences were the answer to increasing public safety, the U.S. would be the safest country in the world. Instead it is reeling under the weight of a
system that has a per capita incarceration rate 700% higher than ours -- a difference that has more than doubled in one generation.
Yet the skyrocketing number of U.S. citizens in prison has done nothing to lower their crime rate.
And the Harper government insists on following the same path. They have already allocated hundreds of millions to implement a corrections policy that is demonstrably ineffective and counterproductive.
This point was echoed in a report released last month by UBC law professor Michael Jackson and former head of the John Howard Society of Canada, Graham Stewart.
Their reports dismiss the government's Roadmap as "an ideological rant, which flies in the face of the Corrections own research of what works to rehabilitate prisoners and ensure community safety."
There is no doubt we must have stiff sentences for serious crimes, but it is equally important to prevent the crime.
To stop crime -- to actually make our communities safer -- we have to abandon simplistic "tough on crime" rhetoric and discredited corrections policies to understand and attack the causes of crime. We need to stop treating our prisons as warehouses for the mentally ill.
We must make a serious investment in mental health care, instead of locking mentally ill offenders in segregation without treatment. We need to make available and accessible effective programs to help people break the cycle of addiction and crime. Rather than just throwing more people into cells -- at huge public expense -- we need to invest wisely and more cost-effectively in local communities, empowering them to work with youth and vulnerable people, to steer them away from crime.
The Conservatives do not want to have an intelligent and honest discussion, nor do they want to stop crime. They simply want to win votes by alarming us with inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric they can then pretend to address with costly and ineffectual Band-Aid solutions.
Meanwhile, they have slashed crime prevention funding to less than half what it was in 2005, and have failed to make meaningful investments in rehabilitation and reintegration programming for offenders.
The Harper Conservatives' plan is not a roadmap to public safety -- it is a roadmap to disaster that risks making our country a more dangerous place to live.
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