Pubdate: Thu, 23 Oct 2008
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Jerry Paradis


The letter is written in response -- and in opposition to -- Peter
McKnight's views on the Harper government's crime policy ("War on
crime and drugs more hopeful than realistic," Oct. 15) reflect the
lack of clarity that seems to dominate the issue.

This is best illustrated by the one by Marilyn Baker (Oct. 20). She
says McKnight "sneers at Harper for stating that people who work in
ivory towers might be wrong." She reads his column as insisting that
the work of those experts "proves that in-creasing prison time doesn't

Finally, she cites that last word on everything, the book
Freakonomics, in support of the proposition that increased punishment
lowers crime rates.

What McKnight said is that Harper is pursuing crime and punishment
policy without considering the experts at all.

Harper has not, to my knowledge, cited any aspect of current or
historical thought on the subject and suggested it might be wrong. He
has simply ignored it, along with the considered views of his own
ministry of justice.

More bedevilling is the question of what "works" and what doesn't.
There is no doubt that incarceration incapacitates: People in prison
are not in a position to commit more crimes and, in some cases, that
should be the overriding aim. In that sense, it works.

But there is also no doubt that imprisonment has no impact on
deterrence, either personal or general, or on recidivism. In that
sense, it doesn't work. That's what hundreds of studies, by people
with PhDs in criminology, by royal commissions here and elsewhere and
by government-created commisssions in the United States, have concluded.

More specifically, while the certainty of punishment is a deterrent,
the certainty of increased punishment -- e.g., mandatory minimums --
has been repeatedly shown to be counterproductive, arbitrary and
enormously costly while having no discernible impact on crime rates.

Whatever the "impressive statistics" in Freakonomics may be, they
would have to displace that enormous body of research.

Jerry Paradis

Judge of the Provincial Court of B.C. (retired)

North Vancouver
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