POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 109 (...Crime, Punishment and Safety continued) Canadaʼs growing prison population, mounting evidence that jail time does not reduce the chances of reoffending, and other factors have led to increasing use of conditional sentences. While the public tends to view such sentences as ìsoftî, they allow the judge to tailor the sentence to fit the crime and the individual. A recent study found that offenders preferred house arrest but found it no easier than closed custody. Conditional sentences can establish an environment for positive behaviour change. Some want to eliminate conditional sentences for impaired driving causing death or serious injury, in favour of jail time. This demand may be driven by a sense of justice based on punishing offenders for the devastation they have caused. However, if the primary objective is to prevent them from continuing to drink and drive after their sentence has been completed, house arrest offers more potential. Conditions can be set, for example, to address drinking problems, limit the people with whom the offender can associate, and ensure the licence suspension is observed. If an offender can be rehabilitated, conditional sentencing makes sense from a safety standpoint. Judges determine the right balance of punishment and prevention within limits set by the law. Legislators therefore must allow sanctions to address risk factors which led to the offence in the first place, such as alcohol dependency, relationships and attitude. For crimes related to impaired driving, removing sentencing options could compromise public safety. Put Safety First Prior to the June 2004 federal election, the justice minister introduced criminal legislation to deal with drivers impaired by drugs. However, drug-impaired driving is a very complicated issue. Defensible criminal impairment levels have not been established for substances other than alcohol. To complicate the matter, some drugs, such as cannabis, can be detected in the body long after their effect has worn off. If and when criminal impairment levels can be set, tools will have to be approved to measure those levels, and police trained to use those tools. Criminal legislation is premature. Yet immediate action is needed to protect the public. The Canada Safety Council has urged provincial and territorial governments to consider imposing administrative licence suspensions when police have reason to believe a driverís ability is being adversely affected by any drug, legal or illegal. Highway traffic acts could easily incorporate such a measure to take drugged drivers off the road in the interest of public safety. Prevention is a more challenging goal than punishment. Yet in the long term, it is far more cost effective. Regulatory approaches often provide the most effective tools to prevent unsafe behaviour, provided the measures are well-enforced and supported by public education. To achieve some safety outcomes, legislation may not be needed at all; for example, increased public awareness may lead to the desired outcome. Where there is malicious intent or wanton disregard for safety, criminal law is appropriate. Positive change is achieved by approaches that apply human psychology to an objective analysis of the problem - not by laws based on fear, retribution or political expediency. © 2006 Canada Safety Council