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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Crime Stats matter for child protection policy

Despite the fact that the Harper government in Canada has been on a law and order agenda, crime levels in Canada are now at their lowest since 1972. The Globe and Mail reports on new numbers from Statistics Canada stating:

The amount of crime, including violent offences, reported by Canadians dropped again last year, falling to the lowest level since 1972, though there were increases in homicides, some crimes against children and cannabis possession.
Bear in mind that these numbers come as Canada is greatly expanding mandatory minimum sentences that will place more people in jail for longer periods. This need data is part of a stream of data that shows locking most people up does not make things better. Most people benefit from the rehabilitative and preventative approaches that have been the hallmark of the Canadian justice system. Research in the UK recently showed that there is a need to incarcerate the very small numbers of people who represent the repeat criminal offenders and the very violent.

The implications of this new data for child protection are powerful. We simply don't need to be spending literally billions incarcerating people other than the noted group. That money is better spent on rehabilitation and prevention which will:

1. Allow more families to stay together;
2. Result in fewer children living without a parent for longer periods. Research keeps telling us about the importance of both parents to a child;
3. Reduce the intergenerational crime effect;
4. Reduce the increase in criminal and antisocial attitudes that are garnered through stays in prison and exposure to the prison population. This results in less contamination of those attitudes on children if the adult has not been incorporated into those beliefs through prison sentences;
5. Allow better economic outlooks for families who do not lose a potential or current bread winner.

Criminal justice policy has significant implications for child protection. These current stats in Canada should (but won't) cause policy makers to reconsider the sentencing approaches. We have seen some push back by the judiciary and hopefully data like this will cause more.

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