Much is said in the media both print and television about the need to be tough on crime. It is also been a tool of politicians trying to curry the favour of the electric to say that they are tough on crime. Being tough on crime has come to mean more charges, and a call for more incarceration and more time in jail. Given this US style of politics, local police services also continually call for more officers, more funds, more money, more equipment, so that they can pursue this tough on crime agenda.
But what are the facts? The truth is Canadas crime rate has been deceasing steadily since 1991. Property crime in 2002 reached its lowest point in over twenty years. There was a slight increase in other criminal code offences between 1999 and 2002. However, these decreased again after 2002. Similarly, violent crime decreased from 1992 through 1999 and increased slightly in 2000 and decreased again in 2002. The reality is there is less crime now then there was fifteen years ago. The perception, perhaps media driven however is that crime is rampant and on every street corner. This sad in that fosters a sense of paranoia among the population which again feeds this desire to punish criminals and incarcerate them for longer periods of time.
The average annual cost of incarcerating an individual for men is $79,538.00 and for women it is $155,589.00 (according to the last statistics released by Corrections Canada). Canada incarcerates 116 people per 100,000 members of our population. Our incarceration rate is higher than most western countries, which range from a high of New Zealand at 145 per 100,000 to a low of Finland at 50 per 100,000. Of the western countries, Canada is fourth in the number of people incarcerated. However, there is one notable exception and that is the United States. The United States has the highest prison population now in the world, both in absolute terms and in per capita terms. At present the United States has more than 2,000,000 people in-custody and incarcerates their population at a rate of 701 inmates per 100,000 residents, almost seven times higher than Canada. This is higher than such countries as Russia, Belaruse, Turkmanistan and even China.
Another alarming trend in US incarceration is the growth in female prison populations. Over the last seven years, the female population has increased 5.2% per year, almost double the rate of growth of the male population.
If being tough on crime is the answer, then we only need to look to the United States for the salvation of all our problems. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, yet their rate of crime is much higher than ours. The truth is the best way to stop crime from happening is to help those people who are poor before they commit crimes. That means have programs in place for drug addiction, programs in place to help poor youth, programs in place for mental illness etc.
The sad reality is it is a lot easier for politicians to say they are tough on crime and hammer people convicted, then it is to say they need to spend millions and millions of dollars on preventative programs.
Shawn Swarts is a partner at the law firm of Cobb & Jones, who practices primarily criminal and civil litigation. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice.