PANS-08

POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 107 (...Crime, Punishment and Safety continued) Justifiably, the legal process to charge and convict someone is intricate and costly. Criminal Code penalties can be imposed only if guilt is proven beyond a doubt, and many safeguards apply to protect the rights of the accused and to prevent wrongful conviction. (David Milgaard, for example, was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit.) Individuals charged with criminal offences often choose to defend themselves rather than pleading guilty, due to the devastating personal consequences of a conviction. Even though criminal sanctions are harsh, the sentence itself is only part of the actual punishment. A criminal record is a lifelong stigma that brings ongoing restrictions on travel outside Canada and limits job opportunities. Do Criminal Penalties Prevent Unsafe Acts? A study in the May 2004 issue of the American Journal of Public Health casts grave doubt on the idea that criminal sanctions are in fact an effective deterrent. Researchers found no evidence that using criminal law either decreases or increases use of marijuana. Patterns of use in Amsterdam and San Francisco were similar, despite very different national drug policies. Highly punitive criminal sanctions in the US have not resulted in lower use of the drug. This study has implications for public policy. The idea that criminal penalties deter unsafe behaviour more effectively than less severe sanctions should be seriously questioned. Research clearly shows that people are less likely to offend when they believe they will be caught. Most chronic offenders ó the ones who cause the most harmó do not believe they will be caught. Penalties, regardless of severity, have little preventive effect unless they are seen to be enforced. Visible enforcement has a greater impact on safety than simply having tough penalties on the books. Certainty of punishment has a greater deterrent effect than severity of punishment. Hence, from a prevention standpoint, the critical factors are enforcement and conviction, rather than the nature of the penalty itself. Bill C-45 imposes criminal liability for workplace safety. While this may satisfy a desire to punish those responsible, the Canada Safety Councilʼs question is, will it prevent workplace casualties? Nova Scotia made comprehensive changes to its workplace health and safety laws after Westray. In the 12 years since, no workplace disaster of this magnitude has occurred anywhere in Canada. Lessons were learned, and action was taken. It will be hard to measure the preventive impact, if any, of criminal law in comparison with properly enforced regulations. The Purpose of Sentencing: Punishment or Prevention? There is little evidence that harsh penalties are the best way to prevent further offences. In 1998, the Australian state of New South Wales doubled the maximum penalties for most drink-driving offences. An analysis of the impact of these harsher penalties was released in June 2004. It found that after the tougher penalties went into effect, there was a slight reduction in recidivism rates for drinking drivers. However, the changes were not substantial, and no reductions were seen in Sydney, the largest urban area in the state. If stricter punishment is the most effective deterrent, offenders who go to jail should be less likely to reoffend when released than those sentenced to the milder penalty of probation. Yet the two groups tend to re-offend at about the same rates. There is evidence that long prison sentences without other remedial programs may actually increase the chances of re-offending after release. Very brief incarceration does appear to reduce recidivism with first-time offenders. continued...

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