Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

Archive for law

Senseless Sensitivity

The war on drugs has been a failure. The war on the sex trade wasn’t so much as declared but the result has been the same. The similarities between the two industries are as evident as they are disturbing to the general public. Society judges the participants not as distinct players within an economy but as a morally depraved stereotype. The moral high ground is always claimed by the political right and any transgressions within their own ranks is seen as an aberration. The exception to their steadfast belief in their own blessed superiority.

Prohibition was an utter failure. Our hindsight allows us to see that not only was it so, it led to the rise of organized crime as a financial powerhouse. This is a simple matter of supply and demand. There was a demand for alcohol and when it could not be legally supplied, organizations stepped in to fill the demand at a premium. This is the same situation with illegal drugs and the sex-trade. Now drugs are substances that are addictive. Even when not in a physical sense they can become so psychologically. Just as alcohol. Sex can be the same kind of escape for someone suffering from loneliness or depression. More then that though, it is in our most primal nature to seek it out. As with most animals, we will often fulfill our carnal desires at all costs. Threats of legal consequences, disease, financial ruin and social devastation do little to curb libidos. When a person is well adjusted, we can consciously but these needs into perspective but it often only requires a tiny insecurity, weakness or perceived entitlement to allow someone to succumb to the instinct.

This is evolutionary programming. We are driven to be content and happy. When the body, devoid of wisdom and moral guidance needs something, it finds a way to get it. This is not by any means an attempt to justify bad behaviour but is a reality that needs to be addressed. Unless this dynamic is understood, any attempt to control the distribution of these products and services will fail.

North American society has a foundation in puritanism and religious moral education. It was part of the early mandates of the churches to provide education in all things, not the least of which was the difference between right and wrong. It is difficult to separate morality from religion and have a system of tolerant justice. The thought of prostitution is a biblically offensive. Illegal drug users are weak, immoral beings. Only when we separate from the issues the religious and societal stigmas associated with them, there can be no effective attack.

For illegal drugs, there needs to be a focus on curing the addictions and fostering environments that lessen the conditions of mental illness and poverty that led to them. Help from the bottom and severely punish the top of the drug industry. Only by curbing demand will the industry become less profitable. It will be foolish to ever think that this is a winnable war. We can only hope to win battles and move on. Punishing the addicted users only moves them into hiding or to prison. Neither of which will stop them from getting their drugs – only get it out of sight of the public and out of our minds.

The sex-trade is much the same. Dealing with it means accepting that we can never completely get rid of it. Best we can do is draw our lines and stick to them. Address the real problems with the business – exploitation, unsanitary, unhealthy and unsafe conditions, and all of the pitfalls that plague both the users and suppliers. Move it out into the open. Make it permissible only in monitored and publically known facilities. Have the workers registered and tested for STD’s. Unlike an illegal operation where authorities need a warrant to search a location, health officials and police can regularly inspect registered public businesses. Much like in the case of safe injection sites for intravenous drugs, services can be made available to those who want to both get out of the business or want address the reasons they feel the need to use the services. Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Various codes of morality have been unsuccessfully imposed on it over thousands of years. Again, the key is to focus resources where they can actually do some good. Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is not actually illegal in Canada. It is against the law to profit from prostitution, to run a bawdy house or to openly advertise the service. The act it self does not break any law. What I propose is to make the dangerous practices illegal. Exploitation of anyone is already a criminal offense. Operation of an unsanitary business is also prosecutable. Point is, the nasty side of prostitution is already against the law. Having the business operate under the light of day will make it easier to address.

The moral high ground is to save lives and make society healthier as a whole and only out in the open cab that truly be done. Hidden habits and chosen ignorance will only be to the benefit of illegal operations and allow them to flourish. Open control will allow for the issues to be seen and dealt with. What stops us is only the prevailing aversion to actually admitting these are economic systems as opposed to purely moral transgressions. It offends us. It scares us. So we choose to demonise them in their entirety allowing us to definitively separate ourselves from the dark muck – from the parts of ourselves we all like to pretend don’t exist.

We need to get over it.

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New Jack City? … or “How To Sell A Tabloid 101”

An Analysis of the June 8, 2011 Winnipeg Sun Lead Story

Wow.

I must live in the most dangerous city in the world. How do I do it? I mean, and survive?

The Winnipeg Sun loves a good crime story and today is just that – a story. Pumped up by “Angry” Tom Broadbeck’s opinion that the responsibility for crime lies entirely with the provincial NDP in Manitoba. The Sun is a great believer in the “shock and awe” school of journalism. What that means is that they pick a single statistic and / or an example of a horrible crime to fit their agenda. Today’s rag is no exception.

PAGE 1

Headline: “NEW JACK CITY” and a photo “illustration” of a man being dragged from his car. Basically a catch-phrase and a dramatization intended to shock readers in believing that this is such a common crime that they caught it on film. Problem is, they didn’t. The “illustration” is just that. It could have been drawn by a fantasy artist. It’s not even based on an actual incident. It “illustrates” something close to a worse case scenario. As long as you’re into fictionalizing the news boys, hire some effects artists and get some fake blood. Just saying — you’re not even doing a good job at doing a bad job.

PAGE 4

Don’t open with any sort of thought. Oh no … that might allow a reader to think. Open with the heart-wrenching story of a woman who was carjacked in 2009. The story is tragic as are all the stories of victims. My heart goes out to each and every one. But as for value in a news item it has little. This is what anyone teaching high school level statistics calls anecdotal. It’s good for raising a reader’s blood pressure but serves no other purpose. But there are some real numbers so let’s not leave them out.

In the middle of the page there is a chart that shows the stats for car-jacking incidents from 2004 through 2010. There are many problems with said chart. First, what does it actually refer to? Reported carjackings? Attempted? Failed? There’s more to simple numbers then meets the eye. Also, what was happening before 2004? Was the trend rising or falling? Is this just a statistical blip? We have no way of knowing. Any real analysis needs a much bigger picture then  six years. The chart starts in 2004 at 13, 2005 – 25 (+12), 2006 – 37 (+12) 2007 – 50 (+13). Then in 2008 it drops to 38, spikes at 59 in 2009 and back to 49 in 2010.1

Now, the Sun wants you to believe that we can blame the MPI car immobilizer program for the rise in carjackings. There’s one problem with that and their own chart shows it – the immobilizer program began in 2007. If the rise in incidents had even continued at even the same pace after the program as it had been before then the number for 2010 should have been much higher. From 2004 to 2007 the number increased by 37. If I add 37 to the 2007 number, it adds up to 87, not 49. The chart clearly shows that the numbers were increasing more rapidly BEFORE the immobilizer program. If you were to actually plot a curve for the average rate of increase, it has been dropping since 2007. I will state again, that is since the MPI started the program. All that aside, blaming MPI for this crime is like blaming me for my neighbour getting robbed because I installed a better lock on my door. It just doesn’t make any sense.

PAGE 5

Oh Tom. What ever happened to you to make you so angry? I’ll say your angry because it seems to cloud your judgement so often. Today, you followed your paper’s pattern to the letter. You opened your column with the story of a car-jacking. Again, while I’ll assume it’s a true story, it’s anecdotal. To that was added another art-project “Illustration”. Your theory is that to stop crime, put all criminals behind bars longer. That doesn’t work and there’s evidence to back it up. You just delay the inevitable. They will get out eventually and they will commit crimes. Whether it be five years or ten years of twenty years down the road. You (and your aging readers) just hope to keep them in long enough that you won’t have to deal with it. Crime itself is an economic system. Just like any other economic system, as long as there is a demand, someone will attempt to supply. Throw away a criminal and another will take his place. The threat of punishment has been shown unequivocally not to deter. Shut down an avenue of supply and criminals will find another. Why? Because it makes economic and social sense to do so. The only real solution is to make crime unattractive and unprofitable and to replace it with something that is more so.

In 1989 Italy released all offenders with less then three years remaining on their sentences. These criminals were effectively given “suspended” sentences for the remainder of their time. The longer the time remaining, the longer the threatened punishment and the more effective the threat was. With an important exception – dangerous criminals. The threat had no effect whatsoever on the most dangerous offenders.2 Would carjackers be considered dangerous? I would think so.

Let’s look at the most extreme deterrence – death. In the United States, numbers consistently show that murder rates in states without the death penalty are invariably lower then in states with the death penalty. Violence begets violence.3 

A huge 1997 report from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland to the United States Congress4  (which was largely ignored) looked at every possible crime prevention technique. In the end, there was no correlation between the threat of longer sentences and lowering the crime rate. In fact, the states with the highest incarceration rates and the stiffest sentences remained the states with the highest crime rates. This report looked at decades of data from hundreds of sources. I’m afraid Tom, that six years of stats from one crime doesn’t quite cut it. All columnists should be required to do a little research before they decide that they know what’s best for the criminal justice system. It’s easy to yell and scream and demand vengeance. It takes thought and deliberate planning to actually try and solve a problem.

Overall, crime rates have been falling steadily since the early 90’s and even violent crimes that were lagging behind in their secession have levelled off.5 Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell ad space. One bold headline spouting a half-truth apparently does.

I’m not a “bleeding-heart liberal” mind you. I actually support harsh penalties for harsh crimes. I believe that violent repeat offenders that don’t show remorse or change in behaviour should rarely see the light of day. What I don’t believe is that this will actually lower crime rates. Crime is power, power will fill a void. To tackle crime you have to deal with the reasons the crime is happening. The social causes. The economic need. Youth turn to gangs and crime because they see no other direction to go. As distorted as this view may be, in their minds it is reality. No threat of incarceration or even capital punishment will change that. The same university report mentioned above specifically looked at “scared straight” programs were at risk youth were given a chance to see what life incarcerated was really like and there was shown little effect on the rates of offending for these youth. Right or wrong, the criminals believe that the risk is worth the possible pay-off and that anything that happens can’t be worse then how they perceive their life is now.6

Ask any medical professional and they will tell you that the best way to prevent an infection is to not have conditions that foster it’s growth in the first place. In risky situations be sure to wash your hands and be careful not to cross-contaminate. Crime as a disease is no different. Clean the environment and build up resistance through the development of the community as a whole. Don’t ignore an issue as they are like wounds in this analogy – prone to deadly outbreaks if left alone. Separation from the infected area (amputation) is only a last resort.

Finally, the tabloid media has to take some of the blame for making crime cool. It’s how to get noticed. Want to be on the front page of the Sun? Commit a crime. Do some good for the community and Laurie Mustard gives you a paragraph on page six.

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Works Cited:

1 The Winnipeg Sun, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – Pg. 2 (Source: Winnipeg Police Service?)

2 C. Montaldo, Do Stiffer Sentences Act as a Crime Deterrent?, About.com Crime / Punishment (Original Italian study published in the Journal of Political Economy)

3 Deterrence: States Without the Death Penalty Have Had Consistently Lower Murder Rates, Death Penalty Information Centre (With data from the US Census and the FBI)

4,6 Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D., MacKenzie, D., Eck, H., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S.
(1997). Preventing Crime: What works, what doesn’t work, what’s promising. National
Institute of Justice. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.org/works/

5 Statistics Canada, Exploring Crime Patterns in Canada, (2005) Catalogue no. 85-561-MWE2005005