Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Bullying on a massive and hugely expensive scale that ordinary Canadians should reject"

In an op-ed yesterday, Professor Errol Mendes skewered yet again one of the Conservative planks being offered up in this election: "Youth offender plan rides wave of fear." Recall Mendes' effective questioning of Mr. Harper's "catastrophic decisiveness" recently. This op-ed accomplishes a similar feat, demonstrating that the approach to young offenders being offered by Mr. Harper, where he proposes to put 14 year old offenders in prison for life, is one that is presently being rejected by his conservative confreres in the United States. Further, the overcrowded prisons and studies demonstrating the lack of deterrence that such measures bring provide additional evidence pointing out the wrongheadedness of Mr. Harper's proposals. Raising the obvious question of why Canada should be travelling down a path that's failing and being publicly rejected by judges in the U.S. Mr. Harper, however, seems intent on following the U.S. for guidance in most policy matters, domestic or foreign. This is all the more remarkable given that in a few months...Bush will be gone. Yet for Canadians, barring a major upset, Harper and his American-inspired policies, will live on.

Here's Mendes pointing out the shift in support away from mandatory sentences by conservatives:
The Los Angeles Times has reported that not only liberal, but conservative judges in the U.S. are hoping that Congress or the Supreme Court will move away from mandatory sentences to give them leeway to impose shorter and fairer sentences. U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell, an appointee of George W. Bush and former law clerk to one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia, is quoted as saying: "When I have to sentence a midlevel drug dealer to more time than a murderer, something is wrong ... This is not about being soft on crime ... I believe in tough sentences for severe crimes."
Even Bush's attorney general, Michael Mukasey – definitely not an ivory-tower academic – has argued against mandatory sentencing. He even went to the extent of suggesting that mandatory sentences could violate the U.S. constitutional principle of the separation of powers.
Here are the stats on prison overcrowding:
Congress had passed mandatory sentences for crimes involving drugs and guns, and also passed mandatory sentences for other federal crimes. What the mandatory rules accomplished was overcrowded prisons, with 181,622 convicts in federal prisons compared with 24,363 in 1980.

When the states followed with their own mandatory sentences, the U.S. prison population ballooned to 2.3 million, up from 501,886 in 1980. The effect of ignoring the ivory-tower academics has been to warehouse entire sections of the U.S. population in prisons with little effect on the crime rate.

Academic studies have cast doubt on whether the mandatory sentences in the U.S. have acted as a deterrent, and there is no real evidence that states that have mandatory sentences had any different crimes rates than those that do not. In fact, demographic and socioeconomic factors had a greater impact on decreasing crime rates than the imposition of mandatory sentences.
What's even more galling, as discussed earlier this week, when the Globe editorialized against Mr. Harper's abuse of the confidence vote, is the prospect of Mr. Harper jamming such ill-advised policies down the throat of the Canadian democracy once again:
Now, during this election campaign, Harper is threatening that even if he is returned with a minority, he will put his proposed law on putting children in prison for life – destroying their chance at rehabilitation by naming them – to a confidence vote. That creates the possibility of yet another $300 million election right after this one, if the opposition does not meekly agree to him.

This is not governing. This is bullying on a massive and hugely expensive scale that ordinary Canadians should reject.
Mr. Harper's vision seems to be backfiring in Quebec. Now if we can only muster that in the rest of Canada...