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Attacking the Root Causes of Crime – Part II

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Further to my column in today’s Free Press, we received a well-time email from our good friend Sel Burrows, he of the Point Douglas Powerline, a residents’ association that has been lauded for its success in beating back an epidemic of street crime in a once-notorious inner-city neighbourhood.

The secret of success in Point Douglas was an integrated approach – residents working closely with police and social services – to rebuild neighbourhood pride, divert aimless youth to more positive activities and create pressure from both the cops and community to push out the criminal elements. It shows that thoughtful, dedicated policing IS definitely part of the solution. But without the community and social services, which are vehicles to deal with the root causes of crime, then the police are just trying to dig a ditch in the middle of a lake.

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It is fascinating, however, how many people think that kind of approach is hokum. In the comments to my column, you see many readers who believe that anyone who breaks the law is incorrigible and cannot be diverted away from a life of crime to a more productive existence.

One reader, who goes by the handle Bob, reacted to my description of criminals as generally poorer, dysfunctional and under educated. He rephrased my description:

"Poor, stupid, bad choice and decision making skills people/kids.
No one forces you to become a doctor or lawyer or journalist or w/e everyone pics (sic) and chooses what they wish to become.
These troubled poor bad choice people choose to do bad.
Bad people = Jail
Good People = people who help society and become part of society.
There is no grey areas just tree huggers and government officials trying to sugar coat everything."

Okay then. I have always embraced the idea of preventative policy because I believe in the long-run it’s more effective, both in terms of cost and outcomes. Comments like this remind me that there are many citizens who reject the preventative approach. In fact, they would reject this approach, even if you could show them it’s more effective that hiring more cops and buying police helicopters.

Bob’s is a moral analysis. Morally, people who break the law aren’t worthy of preventative measures and we’ll spend whatever we have to spend to lock them all up.

These are the people who continue to rant for more cops and longer sentences as the first and best way to control crime. We’ve been doing that for quite a few years now and it hasn’t worked. Nor has it worked in other countries (the War on Drugs anyone?) Perhaps Bob thinks there is a tipping point where, if you continue to build bigger prisons and hand out longer sentences, the world becomes a safer place.

That kind of approach has already been tried. You’ll have to ask Snake Plissken about whether it worked:


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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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