By Jason Menard
While Justice Minister Vic Toews swung for the fences in tabling tough new three-strikes legislation, the fact of the matter is that he only batted .500 – making solid contact on getting tough with crime, but whiffing badly when it comes to effective prevention of future crimes.
Similar to “three strikes” legislation present south of the border, Toews new proposal would mandate indefinite prison sentences for violent and sexual offenders after their third occurrence. In addition, it would be the burden of the offender to convince a judge as to why they are no longer a dangerous offender as a condition of their release.
Whether it’s political posturing or not Toews’ motion is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it’s too much a step in the Right direction, with not enough consideration for the traditionally Left leanings. This three-strikes legislation focuses too much on punishment and not enough on prevention.
Simply put, you’d have to rape three people, or commit violent acts on three separate occasions to qualify for this strict punishment – and that’s three times too long. And nowhere are criminals compelled to deal with their tendencies while in prison. Instead, they’re able to sit in prison, fermenting their anger and rage, and learning new and interesting ways to commit new crimes from their prison cohabitants.
Where’s the prevention? Where are the measures to help people learn to integrate into society? And where’s the acknowledgement that we have to treat the disease, not just put long-term bandages on the symptoms.
Toews’ measure is a reflection of an increasingly agitated Canadian community that’s fed up with perceived leniency in the punishment of our society’s criminals. He’s preaching to a converted choir of disgruntled voters who are experiencing growing concern for the safety of their city streets. And while harsher sentencing may be an effective knee-jerk reaction, it’s one that’s going to end as effective as a kick in the teeth.
It’s not enough to put criminals away and forget about them. They must be dealt with and they must deal with the ramifications of their actions. First, longer prison sentences shouldn’t be where it stops. There should be life-long after-release monitoring for violent and sexual criminals. Just like we tried to do with Karla Homolka after the fact, we should in the future make regular police checks, inspections, and monitoring a part of all future sentences for violent and sexual criminals. If entering into a life-long relationship with your local police station doesn’t get some people to reconsider a life of crime, I don’t know what will.
Secondly, while in prison, violent and sexual criminals must attend and participate in psychological counselling and other programs designed to reintegrate them into the mainstream society. Unfortunately, our prison system is better at removing than rehabilitating and once one is released from jail, they often find themselves on a circuitous route back to their cell because they can’t cope with the pressures and temptations that await them outside the prison walls. Unfortunately, as most programs of this nature are currently voluntary, they don’t need to attend and won’t get the help that may assist them in their transition.
So take away the choice. Weekly mandatory therapy sessions for the duration of one’s prison sentence should be the norm. That way we can ensure that whatever issues have driven these people off the path that most of us take, at least we can do our utmost to steer them back on track.
Any complaints? Too bad. Criminal lose the right to be protected by our society and our laws due to the very fact that they’ve shown an inability to play by our rules. You can’t contravene the expected norms of our society and then expect that same society to protect you. Hey, you can’t play by our rules, don’t be upset when we change the game.
Finally, why do we have to wait for three strikes? Why do more people have to be victimized before we act? Why not make an effort before someone gets to this point, so that other innocent members of our society don’t have to have their lives shattered. Let’s work to root out the cause of this type of violent activity and put in place measures to counter it. Whether that’s support lines, safe houses or centres for those about to commit an act of violence, or programs to help people deal with their emotions in a productive and socially acceptable manner, we have to invest in the security of our society.
Yes, the measures will cost more in the short-term, but the long-term benefits for our society are priceless. Locking them up and throwing away the key won’t work – finding the key to unlock their inner demons and helping them deal with it might.
In baseball parlance, three strikes means you’re out – but wouldn’t it be better if everyone in our society was playing on the same team?
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