Pubdate: Mon, 08 May 2006
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Emile-J. Therien


Re: Tories unveil crime crackdown plan, May 4.

Conditional sentencing is an important safety measure. Canada's 
growing prison population, mounting evidence that jail time does not 
reduce the chances of re-offending, and other factors have led to an 
increasing use of conditional sentences.

Calls to eliminate conditional sentences for impaired driving causing 
death or serious injury seem to be driven by a sense of justice based 
on punishing offenders for the devastation they have caused.

The argument is presented that long prison sentences are a more 
effective deterrent than house arrest. If that is true, offenders who 
go to jail should be less likely to re-offend when released than 
those given conditional sentences. Yet the two groups tend to 
re-offend at about the same rates. There is even evidence that long 
prison sentences without other remedial programs may actually 
increase the chances of re-offending after release.

When it comes to preventing offenders from continuing to offend after 
their sentence has been completed, house arrest offers much 
potential. Conditions can be set, for example, to address problems, 
limit the people with whom the offender can associate, and ensure the 
licence suspension is observed. If an offender can be rehabilitated, 
conditional sentencing makes sense from a safety standpoint.

What most people don't realize is that a conditional sentence is 
punitive. A study by criminologist Julian Roberts found that 
offenders preferred house arrest but found it no easier than closed 
custody. Moreover, it may be preferable because it offers the 
potential to establish an environment for positive behaviour change.

What the public thinks is important, but facts should be given higher 
priority than preconceived biases and opinion polls in setting public policy.

Conditional sentences allow the judge to tailor the sentence to fit 
the crime and the individual. Judges must determine the right balance 
of punishment and prevention within limits set by the law. 
Legislators therefore must allow sanctions to address risk factors 
that led to the offence in the first place, such as alcohol 
dependency, relationships and attitude. For crimes related to 
impaired driving, removing sentencing options could compromise public safety.

Emile-J. Therien,

Ottawa, President, Canada Safety Council
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