Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 15, 2006
Heal child and criminal alike
The federal Conservative government is promising to get tough on gun-related crime. That may be music to the ears of families and friends of victims of such crimes, especially those who feel perpetrators have gotten off with light sentences.
But victims and their families would no doubt be more impressed if the crimes were never committed in the first place. Yet it is in the area of crime prevention that governments of all political stripes fail badly. Government's negligence is somewhat understandable. Political parties want to be elected and one way to win is by promising to get tough on criminals. There are very few votes won by taking the steps that would prevent children from becoming criminals 10 or 15 years from now.
Yet, we know the factors that are likely to spawn future criminals. This is not rocket science. Children suffering from poverty, poor parenting, low intelligence, anti-social tendencies, little education and lack of recreation opportunities are much more likely to become the criminals of tomorrow.
The May 2 federal budget set aside $1 billion for an array of anti-crime programs, 1,000 more RCMP officers, more border patrols and more jail cells.
Only $20 million out of this $1 billion will go to community crime prevention programs. The government also wants to establish higher mandatory jail sentences for 18 gun-related crimes.
There is little reason to believe creating more jail cells to warehouse more criminals with longer sentences will be a deterrent. The evidence is that the likelihood of getting caught is more of a deterrent than the anticipated length of the sentence. So, bravo to the plan to hire more police officers.
The longer mandatory sentences, however, are not so likely to prevent crime. They will increase costs, however, as the government spends $245 million on more prisons and then $82,000 a year more for every inmate who will occupy those cells.
The previous government's long-gun registry was rightly criticized as a colossal waste of money for creating bureaucracy with little prospect of preventing crime. The same may well have to be said for this new program of higher mandatory sentences.
Two days after the federal budget speech, a study was released linking the high violent crime rate in Nunavut (8.4 times the national average) with overcrowded and deplorable housing in that territory.
But not all crime is due to poverty.
A teenage son of a middle-class family recently has run afoul of the law through shoplifting and involvement with drugs. The boy's parents separated before he was a year old. The youngster spent much of his childhood watching TV and playing video games in his room. Now, his mother and her second husband have split. The boy recently became hardened and unreachable.
It illustrates the thesis that children need active fathers in their lives and a positive emotional atmosphere in the home. Indeed, few men in jails or in gangs have had a good role model for a father.
Longer prison sentences and more jail cells will not give a boy a dad.
But if the government is going to put men in jail cells, the least it can do is to help those men develop the skills to be good fathers and take steps to ensure their children do not become the next generation of criminals.
People legitimately want violent criminals taken out of public circulation for a significant period of time. But building more jails is no solution to crime. This is a knee-jerk response.
What is needed are patient attempts at rehabilitation and comprehensive efforts to improve the quality of life for children who are at greatest risk of developing into criminals.
Crime will never disappear this side of heaven. But when society's main response to crime is to build hope, rather than to lash back, serious progress can be made.
- Glen Argan
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.