Tougher sentences, costly and ineffective

from the Winnipeg Free Press Sun Feb 19 2006 By KIM PATE, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

In the wake of the tragic Boxing Day shooting in Toronto, media fear-mongering and political posturing conspired to convince Canadians that rising crime rates deserve the get-tough response of mandatory minimum sentencing. … Mandatory minimum sentences are seductive to citizens unfamiliar with the complexities of crime, and to politicians who want to be seen by those citizens as taking action to protect them. But crime rates are actually declining, and if putting more people in prison for longer and certain periods of time really could make us safer, then our neighbours south of the border would be living in the safest country in the world. In the United States and Australia, mandatory minimum sentences have been utilized for much of the past few decades. Many states are now revisiting them, recognizing that mandatory minimum sentences do not protect society, they do not rehabilitate individuals, and they do not generally contribute to the well-being of others. They do, however, vastly increase the cost of the criminal-justice system. … Supporters of mandatory minimum sentences argue that such sentences deter or prevent sentenced individuals from committing future offences, and discourage others from committing similar crimes by making an example of those who are convicted. There is no evidence to support this. … More mandatory minimum sentences are not the answer. The problem of increased gun violence requires long-term and sustained solutions that are focused on social and community development and increased opportunities for full participation in Canadian society.

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