Harper's approach is to follow the American example and "get tough on crime": impose longer sentences and legislate more mandatory sentences in order to incarcerate more criminals. In their PR mailings, the Harper government particularly targets youth as a group it wants to lock up in greater numbers.
As I have argued before, this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.
Here are some highlights from an article in today's New York Times (Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations):
- The US has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners.
- In the US, 751 people per 100,000 are incarcerated. (In Canada, there are 108 per 100,000.) If you count adults, the US incarcerates 1 in 100.
- One of the reasons for this is that judges are elected, and in the last 40 years crime has become very politicized.
- The US incarceration rate was stable from 1925-1975, but then it shot up dramatically.
- The murder rate in the US is four times higher than it is in European countries.
- The US is the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad cheques.
- In 1980, there were 40,000 people in US jails for drug crimes. Today there are 500,000.
- While many believe that American legal penalties have reduced crime in the US, studies have found that over the last 40 years, crime trends have been the same in Canada and the US, but Canada has not increased penalties. This suggests that it is not increased incarceration that is lowering US crime, but shifting demographics.
- A legal expert at Yale concludes, "Far from serving as a model for the world, [incarceration policy in] contemporary America is viewed with horror."