Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Criminals Among Us

Just how many criminals are Out Here among us in Canada?  "Once again, a new Ottawa think-tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), has chosen to poke a stick into the hornets’ nest of crime statistics and justice policy in Canada. In February [2011], the MLI challenged the orthodoxy that crime reported to police is a reasonable basis for determining federal policy on law-enforcement strategies and prison sentencing. Statistics Canada and the bulk of Canada’s criminology professors — as well as most politicians and bureaucrats — favour the police-reported numbers because they show crime is going down substantially. That fact plays into their belief that leniency is the best policy for handling criminals. Give them light sentences, keep most offenders out of jail and in the community, emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, and the every-boy-a-good-boy approach will make Canada safer by convincing criminals to mend their ways. The statistics, allegedly, back them up. By contrast, the MLI insisted that if crime is indeed headed down, the drop is significantly smaller than official stats show. People have given up reporting crime to police because there are so few convictions any more, and those there are carry with them ridiculously light punishments. Moreover, any real decline is the result of demographics rather than social theory: People under 30 commit most of society’s crimes, and there is simply a smaller portion of Canadians under 30 than there were two or three decades ago. Now the MLI is out with another study claiming it is a “myth” that Canada is already too tough on crime. Opponents of the Tory government’s get-tough policies insist we already spend too much on prisons and incarcerate too high a percentage of our population; any further prison construction and longer sentencing would merely create an “American-style” criminal-justice system here. The Macdonald-Laurier report politely calls such allegations “empirically inaccurate.” One of the biggest surprises in the report, written by Carelton University management professor Ian Lee, is the tiny number of new federal offenders convicted each year. Although there are 2.5 million crimes reported to police annually, in most years only 4,200 to 5,000 convicts are sentenced to federal penitentiaries. This isn’t much more than one ten-thousandth of the Canadian population. Using a statistical scheme that he labels a “crime funnel,” Prof. Lee demonstrates how rare it is for criminals to spend any time at all in prison, whether federal prisons or the comparatively less harsh provincial ones. Of the almost 2.5 million crimes reported to police annually in Canada, only about 250,000 (10%) result in convictions. Meanwhile, among those convicted, only about 27% will go to prison, roughly 25% to provincial jails and 2% to federal ones. The remaining 73% are let out with time served, sentenced to community service or fined. But, of course, police only hear about one-third of crimes. It is likely that more than seven million crimes are committed each year in Canada. If that’s the case, then convictions are won in just 3.4% of crimes, and prison terms are handed out in just under 1%. The chance of doing “federal time” is less than one-tenth of 1%, when taken in relation to the number of total crimes committed. It is ludicrous to imagine that criminals don’t instinctively understand these long odds, and that they aren’t thereby emboldened to commit crimes. Our incarceration rates are only one-sixth those of the United States — 116 per 100,000 population versus 756 per 100,000 — largely because we don’t lock people away for committing property crimes. Our incarceration rates also are lower than the average for the world’s 34 developed countries, and are substantially lower than in other common-law countries such as England and Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. Even if the Tories go ahead with their tough-on-crime agenda, 10 years from now the percentage of Canadians in prison likely will only have reached the average for Western nations. Similarly, Ottawa now spends $2.5-billion on prisons and prosecutions annually, about 1% of the federal budget. That compares with $4-billion (1.5%) for arts and culture. Adding another $500-million a year, as the Tories plan, would only raise the total to 1.2% of federal spending. That hardly seems reckless or harsh. (by Lorne Gunter, The National Post) Emphasis is mine.

The Good News: Sparwood's little Keinan Hebert has been returned to his parents "safe and sound" by the suspect in his abduction, Randall Hopley!