Fear, Anger, Misunderstanding Vs. Statistics and Evidence

Canada is being urged to learn from the Americans’ mistakes: the U.S. mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws turned out to be not only ineffective in reducing drug use but also contributed to a disastrous over-incarceration problem. A zero-tolerance approach allows organized crime and gang violence to flourish and saddles non-violent drug offenders with jail and criminal records that have “ruined countless lives.”

The “Smarter Justice Network,” a Canadian group, shares the same sentiments as the “Law Enforcement Against Prohibition” (LEAP), an American group – both having much in common. Comprised of lawyers, criminal law policy advisors, victims, victim advocates, and retired judges and police officers, these groups oppose the mandatory sentencing regimens that remove judicial discretion scattered throughout the Conservative government’s Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Citing overcrowded jails and “countless ruined lives,” LEAP released an open letter to Prime Minister Harper and senators, explaining that they had been deeply involved with the war on drugs but now realize that such policies are a costly failure.

The Smarter Justice Network is more broadly worried about, beyond drugs, the cumulative impact of Bill C-10, its mandatory sentencing rules, and what they see as a regressive, reactive, costly, and ineffective approach to crime, corrections, and parole.

The general public’s lack of first-hand experience or knowledge of the criminal justice system contributes to a debate fueled by high emotions. Since LEAP’s letter warns us about the costly “failure of U.S. crime policies that those proposed in the Canadian federal government’s Bill C-10 legislation seem to be modeled on,” Canada should not be ignoring the lessons learned in the United States.

Pardon Services Canada shares the same views as the Smarter Justice Network – urging a more forward looking stance that won’t burden offenders so harshly.

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