By Riley Mintz, Volunteer.
Riley is a second year law student at the University of Ottawa.
Our blog now has more than 200 posts on a wide variety of topics. Here are brief mentions of nine previous posts on two important issues that we think are worth a second look.
Perceptions of crime and punishment
What counts as a crime and which crimes get the most attention? A good place to dive into this important issue is the post “Is Everyone a Criminal? Looks like it”. The article considers how crime is defined, categorized, and enforced and prosecuted and makes two important points. First, that a very large number of people have or will at some point do something criminal yes most are never charged. Second, some groups are more likely to be arrested for crime than others.
Two other posts on how “Some Crimes Matter More Than Others: White Collar Crime” look at how differently we tend to address crimes such as financial crimes or workplace crimes such as failing safety or failing to pay workers. Those being prosecuted are not always those who have caused the most harm. Rather, prosecution may be related to the attention and fear surrounding the offence.
Yet another post, “Rethinking Violent Crime” , based on a paper by Cecelia Klingele notes that “for those of us who have never been convicted of a crime, it is easy to overestimate the degree to which our freedom from legal entanglement is a result of personal virtue – we exaggerate our own virtue and others’ lack of it.”
Another post on this theme, “The Desire to Punish”, based on work by Joshua Greene, reflects on the human instinct for punishment, where this reaction comes from, and our inconsistent thinking around who should be punished and why.
Any of these posts can serve as a place to start or continue thinking about crime and punishment in Canadian society.
Recidivism and desistance from crime
Recidivism occurs when a person who has previously been convicted of a crime is arrested or convicted (definitions vary) of another one. Discussions around recidivism are growing especially because of Bill C-228, passed last year, which requires the government to work to to reduce recidivism in Canada. There are many ideas for what Canada can do to reduce recidivism.
Our post “Predicting Recidivism is Hard To Do” highlights how predictions of which people are likely to commit further crimes may be based on assessments that are biased (see also: “Risk and Benefits of Risk Assessments”). The post notes that providing support to people once they have left prison is more useful than doing risk assessments in helping people stay out of jail.
Looking into to how time spent in jail can affect recidivism, a post called “Prison Design May Contribute to Recidivism” talks about how the physical environment is an element of rehabilitation. The unhealthy environment of prisons may lead to increased recidivism. This post draw from Swedish prison designs that focus on personal growth, also noting positive examples in the Canadian system such as healing lodges for Indigenous peoples and minimum-security prisons designed more like homes than cells.
A post on “Desistance from Crime” reports a literature review by on this subject by Kathryn Fox. Most importantly, desistance from crime is a social process rather than just an individual experience, meaning that intervention and support can help people refrain from crime. Along similar lines, the post “Restorative Leisure: Transitioning Into the Community After Incarceration” also discusses how by “filling time in positive ways, engaging communities and promoting skill development in various areas” can reduce recidivism by reintegrating people into their community after they have been incarcerated.
In fact, and contrary to what many think, desistance from crime is common. A post “Desistance from Crime is the Norm”, based on the work of Canadian researcher Karl Hanson, points out that millions of Canadians have a criminal record but most never reoffend. The many ways in which we extend punishment beyond a person’s official sentence, for example by criminal records checks that hinder employment or housing, very likely do more harm than good.