Sunday, February 1, 2015

Budgeting for revenge

The Conservatives here in Canada are looking at putting through some new legislation that is disastrous both in intent and effect.  The basic idea of the new laws is to keep murderers in jail forever and deny them parole.  Ostensibly this is about public safety but as we all know when governments pass new laws in the name of public safety the real reason is usually much more sinister.  In this case it mostly boils down to revenge, which makes a great reason for action in a movie but it makes for lousy public policy.

Right now in Canada if a murderer is deemed a serious danger to the public they can be kept in prison indefinitely.  The real lunatics who will definitely re-offend simply never get out of jail under the current system.  This new system removes any possibility of redemption, change, remorse, or rehabilitation and goes straight for bloody vengeance.  There are people that need to stay imprisoned forever, and there are other people that truly regret what they have done and can be released back into society on parole.  That possibility of release gives them a reason to try to reform, saves the system $100,000 a year, and recognizes that people do change.

Parties that push law and order agendas love minimum sentencing rules.  It fills out their 'tough on crime' agenda but unfortunately it means that people who actually look at individual cases have very little leeway to take circumstances into account.  There genuinely are huge differences between various convictions for the same crime and the legal system works best when we recognize that.  Governments stepping in to try to micromanage sentencing may please the right wing base but it does nothing to stop crime.

There is no reason to make this change.  Adding a line to the federal budget "Revenge:  $87M" is not appropriate or reasonable in any way.  Keeping people who have reformed or changed in prison for life is not justice.  Altering the justice system just for political posturing is disgusting.  Even if this change were free it would be wrong, and it is going to divert huge amounts of money towards extravagant punishments that accomplish nothing.  We could do so much good with the money we waste putting people in boxes.

A second issue I have with this legislation is the way it singles out people who kill cops or prison guards for extra punishment.  Anyone who kills a police officer or guard who is on duty faces mandatory life in prison without parole.  Why is it exactly that police officers' lives are more valuable than others?  This isn't going to serve as a deterrent to attacking police, because when considering killing a person nobody makes a rational distinction between 25 years behind bars and 50 years.  All this does is establish that we care more when a cop dies than when a civilian dies.  Why?  Their job is dangerous, yes, but less dangerous than a construction worker or fisherman, and this does nothing whatsoever to protect them.  All it does is make it clear that the government believes that law enforcement should consider themselves more valuable than the rest of us - an attitude that we already have far too much of.

At this point we should all recognize that tough on crime doesn't mean that a politician will actually reduce crime.  We know what reduces crime and it isn't about being tough.  Tough on crime means spending enormous sums of money to get revenge.  It is about time we acknowledged that and called all of these awful tough on crime policies to account for the damage they do and the awful costs they incur in doing so.

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