WASHINGTON, DC—As a Canadian Parliamentary committee begins hearings this Tuesday on C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, U.S. experts in criminal and juvenile justice and drug policy are questioning why the Canadian Conservatives are promoting expensive and ineffective crime policies that many lawmakers in the U.S. – including conservatives – are rejecting.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act (C-10) is projected to cost Canadian federal and provincial governments billions of dollars. Mandatory minimum sentences and the increased use of pretrial detention of youth will create both more ongoing expenses for locking people up and a need to build more prisons. C-10 will also mean more youth tried as adults. U.S. criminal justice and drug policy experts also note that Canada’s approach to drug addiction will shift away from a public health focus to reliance policing and prisons, at a time when the U.S. is shifting towards a public health approach as more effective and less expensive than past punitive responses to drug use.
“Republican governors and state legislators in such states of Texas, South Carolina, and Ohio are repealing mandatory minimum sentences, increasing opportunities for effective community supervision, and funding drug treatment because they know it will improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs,“ stated Tracy Velázquez, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute. “If passed, C-10 will take Canadian justice policies 180-degrees in the wrong direction, and Canadian citizens will bear the costs.” She added that the legislation does not appear to include evidence-based practices, particularly those around using risk assessments to prevent wasting resources locking up people who pose little public safety risk.
Republican-led states like Virginia and Texas have recently taken steps to reduce the number of young people in adult jails, and changed laws to make it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system rather than be sent to the adult system. While Canadian Conservatives have proposed increasing the use of custody and pretrial detention of juveniles, more than 18 U.S. states have closed over 50 juvenile corrections facilities during the past four years, and 24 states are engaged in efforts to reduce the use of pretrial detention of juveniles.
“Research shows that an overreliance on pretrial detention and custody of juveniles will increase the likelihood of future justice involvement for those youth who are confined,” said Liz Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “And government bodies as diverse as the U.S. Justice Department and the Centers for Disease Control have found that trying youth as adults – which this proposed legislation would expand in Canada – will make them more likely, not less, to reoffend, and it places kids at risk of harm. As the U.S. is now turning the page on these expensive and ineffective experiments in punitive responses to juvenile behavior, it’s difficult to understand why Canadians would consider enacting these failed policies.”
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie (R) is moving ahead to implement that state’s law allowing the medical use of marijuana. In Kentucky, Republicans supported legislation reducing prison time for on drug law violations, enhancing probation and parole supervision so people with drug addictions could remain in the community while being treated, and redirected spending on prisons to increased investments on mental health and drug treatment programs in the community. In Georgia, a Commission backed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal is charged with recommending a large-scale overhaul of that state’s harsh sentencing laws, aiming to create alternatives to incarceration for drug users and other non-violent offenders, and to dramatically reduce the state’s prison population. Republican Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana similarly supported legislation to reduce criminal sentences, especially for low-level drug crimes, in an effort to reduce the number of prisoners in the state.
According to Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, “Prime Minister Harper’s criminal justice proposals have nothing to do with crime control, fiscal prudence or evidenced-based policy,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, “and they appear blind to the lessons and direction of crime and drug control policy in the United States. When not just Democrats but leading Republicans and conservatives are supporting reforms to the costly and counter-productive drug war legislation of past decades, it makes no sense for Harper’s government to blindly reproduce U.S. mistakes.”
Canada’s national crime rate has been on the decline for the past two decades and has reached its lowest level since 1973, according to Statistics Canada.
As Canadian Parliament debates C-10, spokespeople from the Justice Policy Institute, the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Drug Policy Alliance are available to comment on the criminal and juvenile justice and drug policy reforms that are helping the U.S. turn the corner on increasing prison populations while preserving public safety.
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Additional resources and contact information:
- Justice Policy Institute, www.justicepolicy.org; Executive Director Tracy Velázquez: 202-288-2722, [email protected]
- Campaign for Youth Justice, www.campaignforyouthjustice.org
- Drug Policy Alliance, www.drugpolicy.org
For information on U.S. conservative support for justice reform: Right-on-Crime, www.rightoncrime.com