Open Letter To Canadian Senators

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Feb 232012

Dear Senators,

I’m writing to you about Bill C-10, the Omnibus Crime Bill, hoping to convince you to reject it. Crime has been falling for years in Canada. Mandatory minimum sentences have been a colossal failure south of the border. In a period of deficit spending, do we really need a piece of boondoggle legislation?

The crime rate in Canada has been falling since it peaked in 1992, and in 2006 was the lowest it had been in 25 years. There are pockets of trouble, but these areas are isolated and should be treated for what they are: exceptions. Hot spot policing and other tactics and tools that are already available to police are more than enough to confront these exceptional areas. Overall, the crime rate fell by 5% in 2010, and the severity of crime fell by 5% – in a single year. There is no need for widespread and radical changes to our justice system based on irrational fear and not backed up by actual facts and numbers.

Mandatory minimum sentences have been a total failure in the United States. They represent a judgement by politicians that we can’t trust the judgement of judges. The result south of the border has been prisons that are bursting at the seams to no great benefit for either society at large or the populations inside. Conditions are so bad that the Supreme Court of the United States has declared it cruel and unusual punishment and ordered California to release tens of thousands of prisoners. The United States’ prison population is 2.2 million (2010 numbers), which means they represent the fourth largest city in the states, with more people than Houston and just less than Chicago. If you include everyone under correctional supervision the number jumps to 7.2 million (2009 numbers), which would make it the second largest city, just behind New York. I see no reason to model our justice system on what is clearly failing south of the border – you should not measure the effectiveness of your justice system by the number of people locked up but by how just it is.

The cost of C-10 is projected to be massive. We’re already spending more money than we take in revenue. This is worse than a pointless exercise – it will lead directly to cuts to other programs that could be doing more to make Canada better. If we spent this same money on early childhood care and access to education, on after school programs and sports clubs, and yes, on smarter policing and more courtrooms, we would see a much better return on our investment. Mandatory minimum sentences are just not cost-effective. Not just in terms of criminal acts deterred, but in people potential unleashed. This approach is not soft on crime. Things that are illegal will still be illegal, and the extra police and extra court resources could make sure they were dealt with quickly and effectively. But at the same time, the other programs could help prevent the creation of criminals in the first place.

There is another aspect I would like you to consider: the welfare of the criminals themselves. The crime rate in all western countries has been falling since it peaked in the 80s or early 90s. However, in the United States where mandatory minimum sentences mean millions of people are locked up, the falling crime rate hides an alarming fact: if you include the crimes committed within the prison system, almost all of them violent assaults both sexual and otherwise, the crime rate has not actually fallen that much in the United States. While the rate of sexual assault in the general population of the United States fell by 85% from 1980 to 2005, that statistic hides that there are over 216,000 prisoners raped each year(and that is the estimated number of victims, not the estimated number of actual rapes, as once you’ve been ‘marked’ you can expect it to be a common occurrence). The United States actually holds the dubious honour of likely being the only country in history with more male rape victims than female. Increasing the prison population is inevitably going to lead to higher incidents of assault within the prison system.

Please, assert your constitutional authority and vote to send this legislation back. It’s an unnecessary, pointless, and potentially inhumane waste of already scarce resources.

Mike MacLeod
Toronto, ON

PS. I’ve collected here some further reading from a variety of sources, some are used above others are not:
The Economist: What’s America’s real crime rate?
The New Yorker: The Caging of America
Wikipedia: Incarceration in the United States
Wikipedia: Crime in Canada
The Star: 10 Reasons To Oppose Bill C-10
Huffington Post: Occupy the Dream: The Mathematics of Racism
Canadian Lawyer Magazine: A chink in mandatory minimums
Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Do Early Childhood Intervention Programs Really Work?
Student Pulse: Preventing Juvenile Delinquency: Early Intervention and Comprehensiveness as Critical Factors
n+1: Raise the Crime Rate
CBC: Mandatory sentences staying in crime bill, Nicholson says
RAND: Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective?
StatsCan: Police-reported crime statistics

 Posted by at 3:02 PM