Maybe The Choir Should Read Outside The Prayer Book Once In Awhile For Comparison
Well Dan, meet Bob. He also wrote about the issue last week.
Take it away Tarantino:
Let's start with the first portion quoted above: "[in] the United States, where it is becoming clear that mandatory sentences have been mostly ineffective". You could read the Toronto Star's entire excrutiatingly long magnum opus on imprisonment and be left entirely uninformed of the fact that violent crime rates in the United States have plummeted over the past fifteen years (at a much steeper rate than Canada's crime rates have fallen) to levels not seen since the 1960s - at precisely the time when mandatory minimum sentences have been most widely deployed. Now, is that causation or correlation? Maybe a little of both. But it is certainly not "becoming clear" that mandatory sentences have "been mostly ineffective". Criminologists (who, as a profession, seem to have a bias against actually punishing criminals) have been desperate to disprove any link between putting people in jail and falling crime rates - and they've mostly failed in those efforts (see here for an example).
Bob goes on to quote a segment of the TorStar article that Dan had linked to previously on his blog, adding, "Consider this glimpse of a state that tried to use more and longer prison sentences to clean up its streets."
So let's consider that.... (And by "let's", I of course mean, "I'm going to get the hell out of the way and watch Bob work with it because I like piggy backing on the writing of others.")
Today, Michigan is lock-up central. It has 50,000 inmates – Canada, with more than three times the population, has 32,000 – and 50 correctional facilities, 35 built since 1985.
But the state's "mass incarceration experiment" has achieved none of its stated objectives, says Laura Sager of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
"The dividends were broken families and broken communities not less crime."
... If the goal of locking up more people is to increase safety than Michigan "should be Shangri-la," said Sager in an interview in a tiny FAMM office in Lansing, the state capital 150 kilometres west of Detroit.
Yet Michigan's violent crime rate in 2006 was 562 per 100,000 people, according to the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending. Detroit alone had 400 homicides last year.
Left completely unaddressed, however, is whether that violent crime rate is higher, lower or about the same as before the mandatory minimums were introduced. Presumably, we're meant to look at "562 per 100,000" and faint away in horror (that the Canadian violent crime rate is 930 per 100,000 likewise is best left buried (and, yes, thanks, I'm aware that you can't do one to one comparisons of the violent crime rate because of differences in definitions and reporting)). We have no idea what Powell is using as a reference point when she implies that the crime rate has not fallen. Other than that 35 incarceration facilities have been built since 1985, and a sidebar which indicates that the prison population has increased by about 350% since 1984, we're not sure what either Powell or, previously, Contenta and Rankin, are talking about.
So guess what?
That "562 per 100,000" number which Powell was kind enough to provide is, let's see, about a 25% drop from either 1984 or 1985, take your pick (when violent crime rates were 760 and 734, respectively) and a 30% drop from the peak of the violent crime rate in 1986. And 562 is the highest the violent crime rate has been this decade. The last time the violent crime rate in Michigan was consistently this low was in the 1960s. But I guess things are so much more complicated when you actually look at the underlying facts.
Friends know that I applauded the provincial Tories for promising to build a new provincial jail/drug treatment facility in the last provincial election. I would also applaud the federal Tories were we to go about building a few new federal penitentiaries. Won't make any bones about it. I'm a "Lock 'Em Up" kinda guy on violent crime and repeat offenders and for those already suggesting that prison doesn't rehabilitate, I'd ask you to show how well the rehab's been going on in the community lately.
Should guys re-offend once they paid their penance, then it's "Lock 'Em Up Longer Next Time". Unlike many a provincial expenditure I'd like to see reduced or eliminated, increasing the prison system to prevent chronic suspended sentencing for people not deserving of suspended sentences feels like a worthy place to spend the budget ducats.
I'd love to see what a decade of the policy would get us as far as the crime rates. Isn't it worthy an expenditure just to find out?
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And while we're here on the provincial Tories being right a year ago about problems of today, I found it pretty interesting to read today's Freep editorial titled "Training The Police" which states, "... the development of uniform training standards for police departments across Manitoba is a worthy endeavour..."
I enjoyed this because it was just yesterday that I went back and forth on the issue with a friend and he reminded me that my buddy Kelvin Goertzen had kinda said something along the same lines last year when he was still representing the party on justice. Sure enough, here's the press release still on Kelvin's website:
Manitoba Progressive Conservative Justice Critic, Kelvin Goertzen, is calling on the provincial Minister of Justice to modernize The Provincial Police Act to ensure there is uniform and appropriate training for all levels of law enforcement and security personnel in the province.
"The Minister of Justice has committed to review the operations of the East St. Paul Police Detachment. While there is merit in that review and I support it, it is not a proactive or long-term response to what is a more significant problem," said Goertzen. "The Provincial Police Act in Manitoba is decades old and has virtually no direction in terms of police standards or training. This is a greater concern today than ever before because there are more levels of policing than ever before."
While it would be nice for some acknowledgment of the fact that this was yet another classic example of the province acting well after the fact on an issue, but Kelvin and the provincial Tories can take solace in the fact that this helps set up the table going forward. Sure the paper and the gov't aren't about to write "The Tories Were On The Issue Like Eleven Months Before We Were", but you have to think that the paper and its staff will at least know in the back of their minds that it was an issue where the Tories spoke credibly. And credibility of the issues is what the party needs to build and solidify before 2010/11ish. Once that is in place, the promises of an election and the criticisms of the government go a lot further with the public.