Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We can pay now or pay more later

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Should our taxes be increased to support a growing justice system?

Our jails are bursting beyond capacity and many inmates' freedom on release is short-lived before they reoffend and go back in through the revolving door of justice.

Police, the courts and jails are huge budget lines for every level of government. Are we using that massive machine to solve society's problems? Or are we caught in an endless spiral of rising costs without addressing the root causes?

Do you want tax increases to pay for more police and bigger jails? Or do you want your kids to grow up paying less taxes and living in safer communities?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote, in 2006, about Million-Dollar Murray, a homeless man who used over $1 million in health and justice services because nobody in the system intervened.

We now have million-dollar children, using enormous resources (your tax dollars), often with bleak future prospects, but all with great potential. Many of the 10,000 children in the care of Manitoba's child-welfare system will continue draining away our welfare, health and justice dollars into adulthood. One serious assault victim can use up to $1 million in health care, on top of the cost of the arrest, trial and imprisonment of the offender.

Some children in care have more than 100 child-welfare calls and cost us hundreds of dollars a day. In many cases, they generate more than 100 calls to the police to look for them when they run away from their caregivers. What if we intervened with a fully co-ordinated process after that first child-welfare incident or that first police contact?

We know one dollar spent getting kids on the right foot in life can save up to $16 in health, social welfare and justice dollars down the road. Imagine the value of investing in a child completing their education and joining the workforce rather than ending up in prison. That is money well spent.

Many policy-makers and influential people in the system recognize the need for change, and many have started.

The Boldness project in Point Douglas, for instance, is investing close to $1.5 million a year for seven years on early childhood development.

The Block-by-Block Thunderwing project will bring multiple government and non-government agencies together, partnering to solve social problems in a 21-block, high-crime area of the North End. This program is supported by the police, Manitoba Justice and a broad range of community-based agencies, helping families and the community become more resilient.

This is crime prevention through social development, fixing systemic inefficiencies by partnering rather than working in isolation, and being pro-active rather than reacting to serious social problems after they fester.

Does this mean some programs might lose their funding if they don't demonstrate a true commitment to collaboration and partnerships? Probably, but that is one of the cold realities of this new requirement in order to move forward.

We need to keep investing in prevention to stop social problems from becoming worse. It takes time to fix issues that took a long time to develop in the first place. Policy-makers are hard pressed to spend large amounts of money on programs that will take many years to show measurable results. Yet that is the only effective way to make long-term sustainable progress.

We can pay now, or we will pay more later. It's as simple as that.


Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas is working on crime prevention through social development for the Winnipeg Police Service.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 B4

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