Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Get-tough laws can reduce crime rate

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While some cling to the idea that the government dictates one's lot in life, it's no surprise that Stephen Harper's Conservative government is being blamed for the expected increases in Canada's prison population in the coming years.

Among those who believe in the cradle-to-grave responsibility of government, the self-anointed, largely socialist "smart-on-crime" club is loath to place responsibility for criminality where it belongs -- with the individuals who will occupy those future cells and prison cottages.

Instead they prefer a Marxist-flavoured philosophy that points to class distinction, capitalism and even the police as the culprits behind our crime problems.

Thankfully, such thought is well on its way to the very outer fringes of left-wing thinking.

It didn't go unnoticed that the so-called left trounced the so-called right in Manitoba's provincial election. Part of that victory was tied to the NDP's clear support for the federal Conservatives' crime-fighting initiatives, especially evident when an NDP bigwig said that the legislation could have gone further.

That's no surprise. For years the province's NDP lobbied Ottawa to clean up the justice mess and tighten the screws on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, gang legislation and the whole stolen car thing.

Still, the fringe rails on about falling crime rates and tripping into a U.S. style rut -- one where the claim is that tough sentences have no influence on crime reduction.

But what about those reports that say violent crime dropped a respectable six per cent last year in the U.S? Other justice surveys claim even bigger declines --12 per cent -- when both reported and non-reported crime is included. That on top of the decreases in the four years previous.

Further, USA Today recently reported on University of Cincinnati crime research professor John Eck's assertion that "the connection between crime and the economy is an illusion," as other criminologists credit the drop to a number of factors including "continued high rates of imprisonment for criminals."

Just how much of an illusion declining crime rates are in Canada is a circular debate. What is clear is that there have been significant increases in the violent crimes that are most likely to be reported.

According to Statistics Canada, the last decade has seen aggravated assaults (that depend on the victim being wounded, maimed, disfigured or having his life endangered) jump 20 per cent. Assaults with weapons are up 14 per cent. Assaults on police officers (which offers comment on the respect held for the entire justice system) have been subject to recent changes in legislation but nevertheless are up a jaw-dropping 105 per cent compared to 10 years ago.

These disturbing increases coincide with a decrease in incarceration.

Two weeks ago, a Manitoba judge heard the case of an unrepentant gangster who had terrorized young children with a gun during a home invasion. The thug received a supposedly stiff eight-year sentence. Not long ago the starting point for such a crime was double-digits. With a host of early release provisions, insiders predict the gangster will hit the street in two or three years.

In Manitoba, the numbers supplied by Statistics Canada show a decline in the use of incarceration over the last several years.

In 1999, the median time spent in custody in Manitoba was 61 days. Just a decade later that number plunged 64 per cent to 22 days (not weeks or months).

During that decline we've captured some pretty dubious titles including youth crime capital, stolen car capital and violent crime capital. Just this week we again captured the homicide capital crown.

The fringe continues to get caught up in concern about mandatory minimums and the assertion that they have no influence in a decision to commit crime or abstain from it.

That may be, but during the last 10 years there has been a lot of talk about guns, their control and the well-publicized minimum sentences for gun-involved crime.

Coincidence or not, firearm-reported crimes fell 21 per cent during that period with its threat of mandatory jail.

Anyone with half a wit can recognize that the intensity of violence that has unfolded on our streets coupled with the youthful demographic that's committing these atrocities is unprecedented and is clearly a call to action.

Prevention? Yes, but that is only part of the solution.

It's time to change with clearly defined, meaningful custodial consequences for violent wrongdoing that includes hardcore, skill-based, custodial rehabilitation so that an offender has a choice to pull up his boot straps or face a life of revolving-door-warehousing.

Canadians voted for change and shame on those that wield influence and continue to peddle the same 40-year-old drivel that got us into this mess in the first place.


Robert Marshall is a retired

Winnipeg police detective.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2011 J2

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