Recent trend in Canada towards prosecution and against rehabilitation is dangerous, critics say
The Auditor General recently released a report condemning prison conditions in Canada, according to the Regina Leader-Post. The report said Correctional Services Canada had failed to properly prepare for a predicted increase in the prison population as new tough-on-crime laws take effect, thus leading to overcrowded prisons and endangering both inmates and corrections officials. The issue highlights the larger danger surrounding the effects of tough-on-crime laws, which are mainly being targeted towards people charged with drug possession offences.
Canadian laws are out of step
Canada has recently introduced a number of so-called tough-on-crime laws, including mandatory sentences and tougher conditions for parole. As a recent article in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix notes, these laws are largely out of step with international trends, including with the United States where tough-on-crime laws have been the norm for decades.
The StarPhoenix says that public opinion in the United States, among both Democrats and Republicans, is finally starting to turn against tough-on-crime legislation. Canada, however, is starting to move in the opposite direction, placing less emphasis on rehabilitation and more on prosecution and incarceration. Mandatory minimum sentences were recently added to the Criminal Code, primarily affecting people convicted of drug crimes.
US case provides lessons
With Canada adopting these new tough-on-crime laws, it can be useful to look at how similar legislation has worked south of the border. As the National Research Council explains, mandatory minimum sentences have given rise to a U.S. prison population rate that is six times higher than Canada’s. Furthermore, U.S. corrections spending rose from $6.7 billion of states’ budgets in 1985 to $53.2 billion currently. The prison population has increased by 475 percent and corrections spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased by over 400 percent.
Perhaps worst of all, the tough-on-crime laws, according to the report, had little, if any, effect on reducing actual crime rates. Furthermore, the laws have disproportionately worked against African Americans and other minorities. As such, the U.S. is finally softening its crime approach by reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes. In fact, while Canada prepares for an influx in its prison population, in recent years the U.S. prison population has actually receded.
Dealing with a criminal offence
While tough-on-crime legislation often gains popular and political support, the above reports show how criminal law should be created based on reason and not on emotion. Judging by the American example, the recent Canadian trend towards tougher crime laws is unlikely to lead to a reduction in crime, but will lead to increased corrections spending and a larger prison population.
Anybody who has been charged with a criminal offence should contact a highly qualified criminal defence lawyer. With mandatory minimum sentencing now becoming the norm, it is more important than ever to make sure that people accused of a crime have a diligent and experienced lawyer working on his or her behalf.