EDITORIAL: New approach needed to deal with chronic offenders

It is said the definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviour over and over again and expect a different result.

So it should come as no surprise the shambolic state our criminal justice system is in, especially when it comes to dealing with chronic offenders.

Since its inception, the approach of the Canadian justice system has been almost entirely focussed on investigating crimes, prosecuting those responsible, and incarcerating them. And when the sentence is up, the criminal is unleashed on the public with no meaningful support or supervision to do it all over again.

And so the cycle of crime and incarceration continues.

As a result of this approach, police resources are stretched thin, our courtrooms are backlogged, and our jails are full.

Not only is this approach ineffective at preventing crime, it’s prohibitively expensive.

Unfortunately, very little consideration is given to why people commit crimes, and how they can better supported so they don’t keep committing them.

As the Delta Police Department’s recent report on chronic offenders notes, the vast majority of these individuals suffer from extreme cases of mental illness, the symptoms of which are exacerbated by drug addition.

These are people who are mentally and emotionally damaged, many of whom have suffered physical and sexual abuse. They are unable to comprehend the consequences of their actions and are slaves to their addiction. Their crimes are symptoms of their illness.

So why is it up to the justice system to deal with them and not the healthcare system as well? Police officers are not mental health workers, after all.

An approach that treats chronic offenders as sick human beings, and provides them with long-term treatment, supervision, and support will undoubtedly have more success than the current dysfunctional model.

And while the thought of rehabilitating criminals instead of incarcerating them may seem like mollycoddling to some, bear in mind this approach has been proven to save tax payer dollars and reduce crime.

The Delta Police report cites none other than the State of Texas as an example of this approach being successful not only from a public safety standpoint, but from and economic one as well.

That is why it is disappointing to see Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s so-called “tough-on-crime” approach, which advocates more of the same punitive treatment of criminals that has been so spectacularly unsuccessful for so long, just on a much larger scale.

The result will be a predictable failure, and will cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars.

Changes are needed, and they need to be significant, they need to be systemic, and they need to start with a philosophical shift in how we look at crime and those that commit it.

Providing proper treatment and support for chronic offenders with concurrent disorders will not only benefit public safety, but the public coffers as well.

-South Delta Leader

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