How to prevent crime?

Crime hurts us; it disproportionately affects our insurance, health care, and social services. Violent crime also tears the fabric of our society and attacks our collective sense of wellbeing and safety. So, how do we stop it?  

Last week, I explained that the ‘severity of punishment’ does not decrease crime; rather, it is the ‘certainty’ of being caught/punished that decreases crime. But, other than ‘certainty of punishment’, are there other methods that can be used? To answer that question, we need to identify the root causes of crime.  

For the most part, the root causes of crime are: 1) poverty, 2) drug/alcohol addiction, 3) poor employability, 4) racism/discrimination, 5) mental illness, and 6) family violence.

To illustrate, Aboriginals are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. While Aboriginals only make up 3% of the general population, they represent approximately 20% of Canada’s prison population. Aboriginals also have double the recidivism rate (rate of re-offending) of non-Aboriginals. The root cause of this overrepresentation is thought to be attributable to the effect of residential schools on survivors and subsequent generations, poverty, drug/alcohol addiction, and racism/discrimination. Also, as another illustration, consider that single mothers, individuals presumably with less financial means, as well as women who are survivors of (family) violence are both disproportionately overrepresented as offenders in the criminal justice system.

Now that we have identified the root causes of crime, we can make efforts to fix those causes, which will lead to a decrease in crime. Sound like a lofty goal?  Well, it is – but, there are multiple programs that address (and help with) these root causes. Three such programs are as follows: 

Prolific Offender Management Program: This Program, implemented in several B.C. communities, arose out of the recognition that 50% of the crime that occurs in B.C. is perpetrated by 10% of the offenders. These ‘prolific offenders’ have extensive criminal records, substance abuse, mental disorders, and/or a lack of job or life skills. The Program brings together workers from housing and social services, income assistance, psychiatric services, law enforcement, and other community resources to help with the underlying needs of the prolific offenders. In order to assist with the root causes of crime, the Program refers offenders (after attending court) for drug treatment, job/housing programs, close police supervision, and/or mental health therapy. In some of the communities where the Program has been used, there has been a 10-40% drop in the general crime rate. 

Vancouver’s Drug Treatment Court Program: As the name implies, this Program is aimed at offenders with drug addiction problems. Once admitted to the Program (and after attending court), offenders engage in social activities, counselling, and judicial progress reviews. Those who remain in and graduate from the Program have an increase in self-esteem and self-control, have a lower rate of subsequent drug use, and have a lower rate of re-offending. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is also involved in the Program and often addresses the physical/mental health of the participants/offenders. 

Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court: Opening in 2008, this Court was the first of its kind in Canada. This Court is built on the premise that street crime cannot be addressed by the justice system alone; it requires the cooperation of social and health organizations to address the root causes of crime. During the Court’s process, information is gained about the offender’s needs and circumstances. After attending Court, the offender may attend drug/health treatment or receive a referral for housing, health care, or income assistance. Also, some businesses/organizations lend assistance and some offenders are taught new job skills and gain work experience. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting the prison should not be used in some circumstances. I am merely suggesting that programs and laws directed at addressing the root causes of crime, rather than simply creating harsher punishments, show a lot of promise (and should be given plenty of support). The benefits are more than just a reduced crime rate; a better Canada will also emerge – one with less discrimination, poverty, and illness.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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