Monday, June 11, 2012

Justice. Justus. Please?!?

The morning began, after coffee and coffee cake with an address by Dr. Todd Clear, Dean, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University.  Dr. Clear offered an informative talk on community justice but failed to identify any practical steps that government and stakeholders can do to assist communities in owning justice that restores persons and relationships that have been harmed by crime.  Some interesting statements from his address:

  • In America the incarceration rate has risen 2% each year.  Crime rates have not risen at the same rate!
  • Pennsylvania is a national leader in rates of incarceration.
  • There are only two factors that influence incarceration rates: the number of people you put there and the length of time they stay there.
  • In the three decades since 1972, there was first a slight increase in crime followed by an increase in the number of identified crimes and the capper is in the third decade the length of stay was increased - generally speaking.
  • In 1972 the average length of incarceration in the U.S. was 15 months, it is not 5 times that.
  • Presently, the same number of persons incarcerated in 1972 is the same as the number of persons serving life sentences in the U.S.A.
 The third point above is the one the worries me in regard to the current regime in Ottawa.  Mr. Harper with Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act is acting in a fashion that will both increase the number of people in prison and keep those who are there longer... and as states like Pennsylvania, Oregon, California and even Texas have discovered - your communities and streets are no safer - in fact they are a whole lot worse off.  Dr. Clear pointed out that when a person is incarcerated their lifetime earning potential is reduced by 40% - that's 40% less dollars entering the economy, 40% less dollars that are available to care for children - and - when you figure in that many of those who are incarcerated come from pockets of communities - that 40% less dollars being spent in that community in places like the local grocery store.


Community justice.  Bringing the community around a victim and an offender - not to talk about a law that has been broken - but to work at naming harm that has occurred and how that harm can be repaired. 


It saddens me as I speak with people here - I hear again and again - "Oh, you are doing such great work in Canada..."  And I am forced to say, "Yeah but... we just initiated new mandatory minimum penalties for seven existing offences... and... Yeah but... we just  increased the mandatory minimum penalties for nine existing offences... Yeah but... we just created two new offences...

Yeah but... and we will watch our prison populations grow... and thirty years down the road when we find ourselves in a similar place of being unable to pay for this monstrosity of an incarceration machine we will be scratching our heads as they are here now, wondering how we can get off the roller coaster... my advice - don't get on it in the first place!!

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