580 words; 3 minutes to read
Many previous posts on this blog continue to be highly relevant. The problems they addressed remain as prevalent as ever. These posts show how many of the issues in our system are well known yet are not being addressed in any effective way.
Excessive reliance on criminal law to address social problems was the subject of a post based written by law professor Melissa Hamilton, who argued that politics drives the ever-increasing number of actions that are made into crimes. “…legislatures are criminalizing social problems rather than dealing with them substantially through social and economic programs. In this way, overcriminalization may represent a method for authorities in ‘governing through crime.’ Yet this strategy also literally creates more criminals amongst its citizens while generally failing to solve the identified problems.” Another law professor, Douglas Husak, made a similar case reported in a later post.
Another post discussed a report by the Senate of Canada on court delays. While the analysis is solid, the fact is that this is an older problem and the causes are well understood – too many pointless charges, cumbersome and unnecessary procedures, ancient system. The problem is that we just don’t tackle the issues because too many of the people who make decisions are too comfortable with the system the way it is, and don’t really seem to care if it creates misery for others.
The science, or lack of it, in predicting who is likely to commit a crime, or to reoffend, remains controversial. It’s a standard trope of the media to ask in regard to any serious crime why we couldn’t predict it. And that call gets even louder when a crime is committed by someone who already has a criminal record, leading for example to frequent calls to make bail or parole or both tougher. But, as this post pointed out, many studies show that prediction is tenuous. Even when we can be highly accurate at predicting the behaviour of large groups of people, we are often not very accurate at all in predicting the behaviour of individuals. And there is a huge risk that predictions of this kind can lead to very bad consequences, including highly unfair punishments.
In the fall of 2017 there was already a huge furore about the impending legalization of cannabis. Lawyer Annamaria Ennenajor discussed the federal government plans in this post. A year after legalization, it is clear that the effects have been quite modest, despite all the dire predictions about various catastrophes. And other parts of the plan, such as removing criminal records for possession, have stalled, leaving hundreds of thousands of people who did something that is now legal still facing the lifetime burden of that record.
Two consecutive posts looked at issues of systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system. One of these reported on a Toronto Star study showing the vastly disproportionate rate of arrests and jail for marijuana of Black young men even though their rate of use of the drug was lower than for whites. The second post, by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, both at the University of Toronto, summarized research showing the harsher treatment of Black and Indigenous people at every stage of the justice process, from arrests to convictions to sentencing to parole. Like the delay issue mentioned earlier, this, too, has been well known for a long time. Despite many calls for action, the situation seems to be getting worse as recently reported by the Correctional Investigator.
These issue remain alive, waiting for action.