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October 2008
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Crime Pays – if you’re a politician

Shannon Kari in the National Post: Candidates Still Believe Crime Pays

It has become a Canadian election campaign staple that politicians will tell the public the justice system is broken and changes are needed to crack down on crime, even when the crime rate is falling.
This year is no different.
The Liberals want to make it harder for young offenders to be granted bail, the NDP is calling for hiring more police and classifying auto theft as a violent offence. The Green party wants a crackdown on white collar criminals and the Bloc Quebecois says changes are needed to make it more difficult for convicted criminals to be granted parole.

That’s been true in the states for years, of course, although I’m actually feeling like I’m seeing a little less of it this cycle.
Criminologist Jane Sprott has the politicians’ number:

There is a “hostility to evidence” as the public is repeatedly told the justice system is too lenient and that crime is a major societal problem without the data to back up these claims, suggested Ms. Sprott.

Exactly.

Nick Bala, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston who specializes in youth justice issues, said he is not surprised the strategy of Mr. Harper has been successful.
“Playing on people’s fears gets you elected,” especially with respect to young offenders, said Mr. Bala. “Youth crime gets a disproportionate amount of media space because it is more sensational,” he said.
The most extreme cases are presented as the norm, when they are the exception, said Mr. Bala.
Promising longer prison terms is easier than telling the public that youth crime is a complex issue that involves more than the justice system. “It is not a quick fix. But you don’t get elected saying that,” Mr. Bala said.

Smart on crime. That’s what we need.
How do we get the people to ask their Representatives for proof that their tough new laws will actually help anyone?

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