Sunday, 24 July 2011

Canada's crime rate at lowest level in almost 40 years

From the Globe and Mail:
New statistics show the national crime rate is continuing its 20-year decline – reaching levels not seen since 1973 even as the federal Conservative government prepares legislation that would put more Canadians behind bars for longer periods of time.

It is a juxtaposition of politics and reality that has prompted critics to accuse the government of ignoring facts at taxpayers’ expense as it pursues a criminal-justice agenda focused on punishment rather than prevention.

Statistics Canada released its annual survey of police-reported crime on Tuesday. It shows the overall volume of criminal incidents fell by 5 per cent between 2009 and 2010, and the relative severity of the crimes took a similar dive.

Homicides, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies were all down last year from the year before. Young people were accused of committing fewer offences. Even property crime was reported less frequently with reductions in both break-ins and car thefts.

... Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to introduce an omnibus crime bill early in the fall that will incorporate a number of former justice bills that died when his minority government was defeated in March. It will include measures to put more young offenders in jail, end house arrest for a wide variety of offences, and impose mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences against children and a range of drug crimes.

“Unlike the Opposition, we do not use statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals. As far as our Government is concerned, one victim of crime is still one too many,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in an e-mail Thursday evening.

... If the legislation becomes law, the prison population is expected to increase substantially. The government is preparing for the influx by retrofitting and expanding its correctional facilities at a cost it has estimated at about $2.1-billion. Other projections have suggested the costs will be much higher.

The budget for the Correctional Service of Canada has already increased 86.7 per cent, from $1.597-billion annually since 2006 when the Conservatives took office, and is expected to climb to $3.147-billion by 2013-14.

Meanwhile, some critics say the government’s crime bills will actually increase the number of crimes committed by people who have been hardened by the prison system.

“The government doesn’t even try to pretend to present research anymore to suggest that their measures will actually reduce crime,” said [Steve Sullivan, former federal ombudsman for victims of crime]. “If you just have longer sentences and you keep people there [in prison] until the end of their sentences, you actually increase the chances that they will reoffend. Even the Republicans in the U.S. now are saying we need to move away from that kind of approach.”

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