With all the talk about the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill, it would be easy to miss the real significance of the Prime Minister’s crime policy. The debate has focused largely on important but narrow issues such as whether people should be sentenced to a minimum of six or nine months in prison for growing six marijuana plants or whether we should stigmatize young people found guilty of minor assaults by publishing their names, and whether our laws should prohibit certain non-prison punishments for crimes such as break-and-enter.The sum of the Harper crime policy is simultaneously less and more than the sum of its parts. The more fundamental issue that a crime policy should address is basic: How do we, as Canadians, want to respond to those who have committed crimes?
A starting point might be to consider a few simple truths about crime that need to be considered in a sensible overall crime policy.
- Many young Canadians commit relatively minor offences — drug possession, breaking-and-entering, shoplifting — that could see them imprisoned.
- As people get older, they become dramatically less likely to commit offences.
- In many cases, if someone avoids reoffending for five to 15 years, their odds of committing a crime again become the same as the segment of the population that has never offended.