Tough On Crime or Just Tough On Your Wallet?

The American criminal justice system is known for its “tough on crime” stance while the Canadian criminal justice system is sometimes portrayed as too lenient with criminals. Canada does not support the death penalty and a life sentence is only 25 years. Has Canada been successful in maintaining a lower crime rate? How effective is the “tough on crime” mentality in practise?

Canadians don’t have the death penalty.  Although many individuals might support the death penalty for the most heinous crimes, there can be travesties of justice which result in innocent individuals being put to death.  There have been cases where individuals have spent the better part of their lives in jail cells for crimes they did not commit, only to be found innocent decades later.  These individuals do receive compensation for the miscarriage of justice; however money does not recompense individuals for their losses including time with their family and friends and respect among their co-workers due to ongoing stigmatization.

The Canadian justice system is more focused on the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into society.  Many individuals may not see reason to reintegrate individuals back into society but many inmates’ can successfully become contributing citizens after participating in rehabilitative programs. Most offenders enter the criminal justice due to social factors including poverty, lack of education and broken homes (common amongst youth). In this sense, Canadians are less focused on punishing and more focused on providing second chances.   Despite popular belief, most crimes are not violent.

Although the United States is known to be “tough on crime”, the approach   has not proved to be successful.  For instance, some of you may be familiar with the “three strikes you’re out” policy in California. The policy states that if an offender re-offends three times, they are to serve a life sentence. This policy aims to keep child molesters, rapists and murders behind bars but today more than half of the incarcerated individuals under this law are serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes.   In 2012, a new act was passed in California to allow inmates serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes to petition before the court for an early release – 1000 prisoners were successful which resulted in Californian’s saving over $10 million.

Conversely, in Canada, the crime rate had decreased significantly before the Conservative government implemented the “tough on crime” stance. Accordingly, many criminal legal professionals argue that the “tough on crime” position it is more expensive for Canadians and fails to make Canada any safer. The “tough on crime” attitude results in inmates staying in the criminal justice system longer which is means inmates are aging.  As inmates age they have more health issues while others have mental illnesses which taxpayers help pay for.

Some legal professionals are arguing the “tough on crime” stance is ineffective as it results in more costs than benefits for citizens. A 2012 Globe and Mail article stated that it costs about $312 to keep an inmate in prison which is approximately $113,880 a year. Many argue that reintegrating offenders back into society with rehabilitative programs can help stimulate the economy and help offenders become contributing members of society.

Points of discussion:

  1. Should Canada adapt the American criminal justice system?

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