Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Getting Smart on Crime

During the recent visit of the Hon. Marlene Jennings, Justice Critic, I listened to the views of community members, those employed in organizations working with youth, and experts – those who study youth justice matters at our colleges and universities. During three roundtables held in the three corners of this riding which attracted over 120 participants, a great discussion ensued focussing on the root causes of crime, funding for youth programs, and proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

So, it was with great interest that I read about MP Dean Allison’s announcement about the Conservative Government’s funding of some youth based crime prevention initiatives here in Niagara. I completely support the announcement to fund the Youth Options for Success initiative for four years, particularly in light of the fact that Mr. Allison’s party is usually reticent to support long-term support of crime prevention programs. Only 8 of 27 applications for funding for youth crime prevention programs between January 2006 and September 2007 were funded for more than 12 months. This is no way to help our troubled youth in our communities and it is great to see that Mr. Allison has chosen to make Niagara an exception to the Conservative short-term funding rule.

It is troubling, however to read of Allison’s call for the government to “follow through with our promise to look at changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.” When Minister Nicholson tabled Bill C-25 last fall, he cited a recent Royal Commission by Justice Merlin Nunn. Justice Nunn says “The Youth Criminal Justice Act is legislation that provides an intelligent, modern, and advanced approach to dealing with youths involved in criminal activities. Canada is now far ahead of other countries in its treatment of youth in conflict with the law.” Unfortunately, Mr. Allison and the Conservatives seem to ignore this assessment when they condemn the Act for being “too soft” on youth.

The Nunn report calls for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in the areas of pre-trial detention and sentencing principles. Justice Nunn called for more ability to detain young offenders awaiting trial in order to prevent committal of further offences and to allow judges more discretion in sentencing by considering what is in the interest of public protection. These are measures that the Liberal Party supports. He does not, however, endorse the very tired Conservative language about getting “tough on crime” nor the principles of denunciation and deterrence being proposed. He refers specifically to this line of thinking in his report: “Many critics believe that jail is the answer: there they’ll learn the error of their ways. These critics pay little attention to contrary evidence, nor do they understand that with young persons, jail for the terms they recommend does not correct or rehabilitate, but rather often turns out a person whose behaviour is much worse than it was.”

Funding youth programs like the Youth Options for Success on a long-term basis is the right thing to do. I wonder if Mr. Allison has read the Nunn Report, or has considered some of the deeper causes of crime – poverty, lack of housing and viable alternatives – that his government so blatantly ignores when it comes to getting smart on crime.