Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Youth Crime: Reality Refuses to Cooperate

Judging from the mailer I got from my MP Pierre Poilievre, the Harper Conservatives are about to launching a slick new tough-on-crime campaign. Clearly they want people to forget about their fight with Elections Canada, the C-484 debacle, Cadscam, In-and-Out and the rest of their sordid affairs. When in doubt, drag up "law and order" or "tough on crime", the last refuge of right-wing scoundrels everywhere, when they have nothing else to run on.

The pity is, reality is refusing to cooperate - again. Canada's crime rate dropped 7% in 2007, after hitting a 25 year low in 2006. Even the youth crime rate dropped:

The youth crime rate, which has remained relatively stable over the past decade, declined 1.5% in 2007 following a 3.3% increase in 2006. The 2007 drop was due to a decrease in non-violent crimes. The youth violent crime rate remained stable in 2007 after increasing steadily over the past two decades. The 2007 rate was more than double the rate reported in the mid-1980s.[emphasis mine]
The Conservatives don't want people to pay attention to the highlighted parts, they want people to concentrate on that last sentence - "The 2007 rate was more than double the rate reported in the mid-1980s".

From the mailer, they are using phrases like "Above the Law?" and "Age is no excuse" (I'll note that the mailer is a slick production - not the usual sleazy fare for Pierre - and must be part of a coordinated national campaign. Its also being mailed to the Caucus Office at 131 Queen in Ottawa and not to Pierre's constituency office as usual).

Again, reality isn't cooperating.

Lets look at the context for that rise in youth crime. A note from the Daily in October 2007 regarding the 2006 stats is enlightening:

The rate of youth aged 12 to 17 accused of homicide was at its highest point since 1961. A total of 84 young people were accused of homicide in 2006, 12 more than in 2005. However, the number of victims killed by a youth remained virtually unchanged.[emphasis mine]

The total number of youth murders in Canada in 2006 was 84. A change of 12 extra charges (but the same number of victims - meaning more accomplices) accounted, with the other rates of violent crime, for that 3.3% increase reported above. In other words:

While the rate of youth accused reached an all-time high in 2006, 5 years ago the rate was at a 30-year low. Youth accused of homicide can vary greatly from year to year, due to the relatively small number of youth who commit homicide.[emphasis mine]
The rate of youth violent crime seems to vary widely because so few youth are involved in violent crime, even a few extra accused being arrested (but no more victims) can cause a large rise in the rate per 100 000.

It is interesting to note that in 2005, these small actual numbers in youth crime caused a 6% drop in the youth crime rate, including a 2% drop in the violent crime rate.

A similar situation occurred in adult crime in 2004. 2003 saw a 35-year-low in Canada's crime rate. In 2004, the rate was up because of a 230% rise in counterfeiting - caused by a single counterfeiter operating in Toronto. Again, our actual crime numbers are so low, even a single criminal can change the national crime rate.

That is the context and the reality of crime in Canada. Looking at the raw numbers shows that even in youth crime that is close to its highest since 1961, actual crimes are incredibly rare. Despite the fear, there are less than 80 youth murders in the entire country, out of 176 000 criminals 12 to 17.

So the question needs to be asked, where is the crime wave that requires a sudden overhaul of the youth justice system? Is a 'get tough' approach, with longer sentences and more youth in jail the best way to deal with the crime we already have?

Ironically, the Department of Justice's own website seems to counter the Conservatives belief in a get tough approach:

Myth: A "get tough" approach will reduce youth crime
Reality: Harsher criminal sanctions do not discourage youth from getting into trouble with the law.

The U.S. Surgeon General's recent study on youth violence concluded that boot camps, custodial programs with strict military-style rules, fail to make a positive difference and can actually increase the rate at which participants commit new crimes. [6] The same study found that youths transferred to adult criminal court are more likely to re-offend than young people who remain in juvenile courts.

In 2002, the federal government released a review of 111 studies on the effects of criminal justice sanctions on more than 442,000 offenders. It found that harsher punishments had no deterrent effect on repeat offences. In fact, it suggested that punishment caused a 3% increase in recidivism among all groups of offenders, including youth.[7]

Another consideration is that a significant number of youth inmates have mental health problems and require treatment, not punishment.[emphasis mine]

Further, the Conservatives are claiming in the body of Bill C-25, An Act to Amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, that the sentences are declining while the rate of crime is seemingly going up. But if you read the excellent overview of Canada's youth criminal justice system at Mapleleafweb, you'll notice something the Conservatives won't mention:

In 1997, the federal Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs reported that Canada's rate of youth incarceration was more than twice that of the United States, and 10 to 15 times higher (per one thousand youth population) than New Zealand, Australia, and many European countries (Source: Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, 1997)

In short, despite our incarceration rate being 33% higher in 2002-2003 than in 1993-94, we still had one of the highest incarceration rates in the world when it comes to youth. Further, in C-25 the choice of years highlighted is interesting - 2002-2003 was the year before the Liberal's changes to the the Youth Criminal Justice Act became law. In 2004, incarceration had jumped back up and admission to probation had fallen sharply.

Once again, we have the Conservatives trying play on people's fears and misconceptions in order to gain power and push through their agenda. They have long thought that those 'damn kids need to be punished' or that they 'get away with murder' and they will find, spin and twist any kind of statistics to try to show that.

They want to foster the false impression that young thugs are running the streets committing horrible violent crimes - as the graphic picture of 3 masked youths in an alley on the mailer shows .

The reality is that youth crime is already so low that small year-to-year changes in raw numbers create large swings in the crime rate. The reality is that Canada already incarcerates its young offenders at rates higher than most Western countries, including the US. The reality is that actual studies in the US and Canada show that 'tough on crime' policies - as championed by the Conservatives - actually increase recidivism and the crime rates.

If the Conservatives were serious about doing something about youth crime, they would look at what the root causes are. They would use actual facts and studies to determine the best was to prevent and deal effectively with youth crime.

But they aren't serious about it.

They don't really care about the youth crime rate, they merely want to scare people into voting for them.

Don't get suckered in by Conservative propaganda. 'Tough on crime' for the relatively small numbers and prescribing policies that have been shown to not work to reduce crime (and may even increase it) is the wrong approach. Listen to the reality, not the Conservative spin.


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14 Comments:

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

Yup, fear-based politics. I'm already waiting for conservative commenters to basically say don't let facts get in the way of the truth.

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Ron said...

A very thoughtful post, Mike.

I think much improvement to the justice system overall could be achieved were we to set restitution to victims as a primary goal of the system, rather than punishment or deterrence.

Understand that I acknowledge that restitution is a difficult concept in the case of, say, murder--but assessing the value of a life in some terms is not impossible: insurance companies do it all the time.

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I agree Ron. A system like that could certainly address the many concerns of victims rights groups, yet still remain fair for the accused.

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Greg said...

"Tough on crime" makes more crime. Abortion laws don't reduce abortions, just make them disastrous. Abstinence education creates more pregnancies and spreads STDs. Religion makes you more likely to end up in jail.

Pretty soon social conservatism won't have a leg to stand on.

 
At 4:33 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Restitution would be a fairer deal for both victims and offenders.

One of the buggest hurdles convicted people, especially young offenders, have to deal with is an impression something like "the price hasn't really been paid".

Besides addressing the damage caused to victims (and they--not "society"--are the people most owed compensation for offenses), I think more people would be willing to give offenders a fair second chance if restitution was the primary focus.

 
At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Rieff's riffs said...

Most crime, even serious crime like rape and physical assaults, are no longer reported. No stats on that.

People avoid certain parts of cities thereby contributing to the depletion of social capital in those areas, frequently the poorest parts of town - no stats on that either.

Unlike a generaltion or so ago, parents no longer assume their children are safe to play outside in their neighbourhoods unsupervised, robbing children and our future citizens of important social networking, again with the poorest taking the brunt although this phenomena is widespread across cultural, social and economic classes. Stats on this? Nope.

And by the way Mike, fighting the "root causes" of crime and handing out appropriate punishment are hardly and either/or proposition, you can, and should do both.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"Most crime, even serious crime like rape and physical assaults, are no longer reported. No stats on that."

No stats? Then upon what evidence do you base that fairly odd assertion? Evidence please.

"People avoid certain parts of cities thereby contributing to the depletion of social capital in those areas, frequently the poorest parts of town - no stats on that either."

No stats? Then upon what evidence do you base that fairly odd assertion? Evidence please.

"Unlike a generaltion or so ago, parents no longer assume their children are safe to play outside in their neighbourhoods unsupervised, robbing children and our future citizens of important social networking, again with the poorest taking the brunt although this phenomena is widespread across cultural, social and economic classes. Stats on this? Nope."

No stats? Then upon what evidence do you base that fairly odd assertion? Evidence please.

BTW, 2 of my 3 kids are outside playing unsupervised right now. the horror!!

"And by the way Mike, fighting the "root causes" of crime and handing out appropriate punishment are hardly and either/or proposition, you can, and should do both."

True enough except its not me conflating attacking root causes and handing out punishment. Every piece of CPC propaganda I have got states in no uncertain terms that the cause is not enough punishment on these "hoods" and "punks". Never mind the studies to the contrary. Their current "get tough on crime" bill is premised on the idea that just doing this will lower the crime rate. But it won't because not enough punishment is not the cause.

For instance, one of the only other criminal indicators that has gone up in the last 20 years is gang related crime. Gang who deal drugs. Drug prohibition and the "war on drugs" in the US and the tougher stance taken in the last 2 years in Canada has created far more gang crime. Are the Cons talking about legalizing drugs and removing the profitably (due to prohibition), thus eliminating the life blood of gangs and reducing their crime?

No.

That's just one more example where the policies of the Conservatives will actually create more crime, not reduce it.

If you want to show me some evidence of your assertions, feel free. Otherwise don't waste your time pulling bullshit "facts" out of your ass because the real facts don't fit with your ideology.

 
At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Rieff's riffs said...

This happened July 30th, 2008 and is reported in today's papers

"Man stabbed, beheaded on bus to Winnipeg from Edmonton"

I don't remember things like this happening when I was younger. Guy boards a bus in Edmonton, gets stabbed and decapitated while he sleeps.

But Mike says the stats say "Don't worry, be happy" The reality is in the statistics, statistics don't lie says Mike. Mike is wrong.

 
At 8:25 AM, Blogger Greg said...

"I don't remember" is a reference to anecdotal evidence. We don't count anecdotal evidence. The cause of fear today is not in the number of crimes or their severity but in the reporting.

Crimes are reported more. Newspapers usually consider a murder in Winnipeg not relevant across the country. Now they know that it sells copy, so they print it.

The result is that, because of media handling and the conservative party, crimes are reported more and fear more. The fact that people won't let their children out unsupervised is caused by fear not actual crime.

 
At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Rieff's riffs said...

To Greg, Mike and the rest of the hug-a-thug crowd, you may want to read Lorrie Goldstein's article in today's Toronto Sun. Here's a little excerpt:

"You've been told people who think as you do -- that our streets aren't as safe as they used to be -- are suffering from paranoid delusions fuelled by right-wing politicians and irresponsible media?

Okay, let's look at the actual numbers from Statistics Canada.

Canada has been keeping uniform crime statistics since 1962.

- In that year, there were 221 reported violent crimes per 100,000 population. Last year there were 930 -- a 320% increase in the crime rate compared to 1962.

- There were 1,891 property crimes per 100,000 population in 1962, 3,320 in 2007, a 75% increase.

- The overall crime rate was 2,771 incidents per 100,000 people in 1962, 6,984 last year, a 152% increase."

Sorry Greg, fear based on reality.

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Chet Scoville said...

StatsCan's numbers are here. As you can see, crime rose between 1962 and 1991, and has been dropping steadily ever since then. It's now back to 1972 levels. At this rate, it could be back to 1962 levels in a few more years. Goldstein's article is higly misleading, as it gives the impression of a steady rise since 1962. That is simply not what's happened. It is the case, however, that violent crime has not been falling as quickly as the overall crime rate.

 
At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Canada already has unfettered and free access to abortion. Possibly the most effective crime reduction strategy ever known to man. Case in point: Canada, USA, Australia.

Would be interesting to see the percentage of youth crime committed by first or second generation immigrants.... seems alot of gang activity is coming from these groups, but that is purely anecdotal.

Mike, is your assertion SERIOUSLY that the 'tough on crime' policies - as championed by the Conservatives - actually increase recidivism and the crime rates? Which 'tough on crime' policies exactly do you think lead to this? How exactly would a system based on resitution for victim be less tough?

 
At 12:09 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Anon,

I see you have read "Freakonomics". Good.

As for the rest, it is not MY assertion, it is the assertion of studies in the US and Canada as pointed out on the Justice4 Department website I linked too.

I don't think that a restitution would be less tough, but more just and a better incentive for pro-social behaviour. There is a reason I put 'tough on crime' in quotes - most of the time it is an ineffective, more expensive method based on revenge rather than justice that isn't really all that 'tough'. It is unjust and doesn't work.

But of course 'tough on crime' is merely a way for Conservatives to scare people into voting for them with simplistic explanations for problems and simplistic solutions.

They don't even care if it really works to stop crime, because it does work to scare votes out of the ignorant.

 
At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Good Job! :)

 

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