By Yana Fox
“A Place for Passion” audio inquiry.
Hello and thank you for tuning in. My name is Yana Fox and today I will investigate how our province, in particular our city of Toronto prevents crime. The topic of the discussion will revolve around the John Howard Society, specifically their Direct Accountability Program.
However, first let’s begin with a little story. Imagine Lucy, a woman in her forties who stole few groceries from her local food store totaling up to $50. She gets caught, police arrive, she is charged and given a date to attend court. She arrives at court and finds out that she is being offered a deal. The charge will be dropped as long as she volunteers an X amount of hours or donates a $100 to the John Howard Society. She pays and the charge is dropped.
Now you are probably thinking that Lucy managed to get away with a “slap on the wrist”. Some of you might assume that this is not the first time Lucy stole something. And the assumption is correct. However, let me tell you this story again with a little more detail.
Imagine Lucy, a woman in her forties. She is a single-mother of two. One in high school and the other in college. Lucy is an immigrant and only came to Canada four years ago. Lucy is also on disability as a result of spousal abuse, from which she fled to Canada. Naturally the father of the kids provides no financial support. Lucy does not speak English well and physically is unable to work. The money that the government provides to Lucy is just enough to cover the rent and a week worth of groceries. However, it is not enough for even a month worth of groceries. Lucy occasionally has to steal few food items in order to feed her family. One day Lucy goes grocery shopping at her local food store and well, the rest you already know.
Do I hear sympathy?
Now not every story has such upsetting circumstances. However, I want you to think about this… If the person had the finances to buy the groceries, would they risk stealing it? Would they risk receiving a charge? Simply the answer is no.
Individuals who commit pity crimes as such, commit them because they must, not because they want to. If Lucy had the finances, she would purchase all of her groceries instead of stealing.
Now, here is where the John Howard Society comes into play.
First let’s begin with a quick history lesson. The John Howard Society was originally established in 1867 by a group church workers. Their aim was to provide spiritual help to the prisoners. Not before long, the group realized that a bigger problem was in place. Recently released prisoners had difficulty adjusting back into the community and were prone to commit a crime. For example, difficulty finding a job led to difficulty of finding a place to live, food to eat and such.
Within years, the Society grew and branched out all across Canada and so did its function.
If you visit the John Howard Society web site, you will see that their mission is “effective, just and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime. Our goal is to understand and respond to problems of crime; to work with people who have come into conflict with the law; to review, evaluate and advocate for changes in the criminal justice process; and to engage in public education on matters involving prison conditions, criminal law and its application.”
Now the John Howard Society offers a number of programs including The Direct Accountability Program (also known as The Diversion Program). Unfortunately, the director and employees of the Society refused to speak to me but I was able to interview a defence lawyer, David Lakie, with 27 years of experience. Here is what he had to say.
Interview with David Lakie insert.
Now if this all sounded like a bunch of gibberish, because lets face it. The legal lingo is not for everyone to grasp and can be rather dull, let me simplify.
In short, The Diversion Program is an alternative to prosecution for eligible individuals charged with minor criminal offences. Usually an eligible individual is someone over the age of 18 with no or limited prior involvement in the adult court system and as mentioned before, are charged with a minor offence. Some examples of minor offences are: theft of a low-cost item, minor fraud charges involving small amout of money, mischief, causing disturbance, and possession of small amount of marijuana.
After the person is charged and the Crown Attorney gets a hold of their file, it’s at their discretion to offer a diversion to the accused. The program is offered of no charge and is voluntary. Some of the sanctions available with this program include but are not limited to: restitution, an apology, volunteer work, charitable donation, attending a program or presentation, John School or a Peace Bond.
The Department of Justice of Canada conducted a study in 2004, Community-Based Sentencing: Perspectives of Crime Victims An Exploratory Study. This study found that: When offenders are punished in the community, the state saves valuable correctional resources, the offender is able to continue (or seek) employment, and maintain ties with his or her family.
Crime victims were also interviewed for this study and asked about their thoughts on community based sanctions. Their feedback was positive and the research concluded that: Throughout our conversations with crime victims, it was clear that there was an acceptance of the concept of community based sentencing. However, it was equally apparent that for this group of individuals, this acceptance does not extend to include the most serious crimes of violence.
Eileen Skinnider, an associate for International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy published a research paper, Canada’s Approach to Minor Offences, Behavioural Problems and Administrative Detention. In her research she wrote about Tammy Landau who reviewed two diversion programmes in Ontario. Unfortunately his research was erased from the web; thus, all I have to work with is what Skinnider included in her paper.
His evaluation involved 670 individuals in provincial diversion from May 1998 to December 1999. In his research he found that: the Provincial group had almost 90% were charged with property-related offences with the victim as a corporation in 80% of the cases. 2/3 made a donation to a charitable organisation, 7% made restitution or compensation to the victim, 40% attended a “Shoptheft Program” on the effects of shoplifting on the community and 25% performed community service. 10 individuals wrote an essay. Landau concluded that the diversion program was successful.
Based on all this research, it is fair to say that community-based solutions work. They reduce the number of people in state prison and institutions, thus they save correctional resources. Meanwhile it still holds the accused responsible for their actions. Despite the charges being dropped after the diversion has been completed, the record that the person was charged stays in the system for a year.
Recently in the news, The National Post published an article about Robert Michael Crawford. A man that robbed a bank. Now when I say robbed a bank, I mean he lit up a cigarette, riffled through papers and waited for the police to arrive because he wanted to get caught.
His defence lawyer, Daniel Topp, said his client launched his “bizarre robbery attempt” because he was unhappy with the “housing available in Ontario” and preferred to live in a federal penitentiary.
Now you must be wondering why is this important and how does this tie in? Well there is clearly room for improvement on our system. This man literally preferred to live in a federal penitentiary rather than have freedom.
Let’s go back to Lucy. So she paid the donation and the charge was dropped. So what? She still needs financial help.
I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to get to the bottom, to the root of the problem. Yes it is admirable that organizations like the John Howard Society exists. They are very helpful and through the research I provided to you, you can see this now too. However, that is just half of the problem.
The problem does not originate when you are charged, it originates before you commit the crime. It originates with a Why? Clearly, if Lucy had a couple of extra hundred dollars, it would last her through the month. If Crawford had the help he needed, be it mental help or help in finding housing, he would not try so hard to be back in jail.
Clearly there is still a lot of room to improve, and it is up to us, the millennials to make a difference. Do me a favour, next time you read or hear about a silly pity crime don’t be so judgemental. Next time when you go grocery shopping, and you see somebody stealing just stop and think about what I said.
Some people simply do not have a choice. They barely get by with the money they have or they don’t. I guess what I am trying to say is thatmaybe, just maybe, in order to fight crime better, we need to offer better resources. We need to look realistically at why and what is the cause. Maybe we don’t provide enough support to our citizens. For example, in Lucy’s case, even if she was sent to jail for 30 days, she would still come out and have to steal again due to finance shortage. In the long run it didn’t matter if it was a diversion or jail time. What matters is that people very often break the law for necessity. Maybe it is time for the state to look at the bigger picture.
Thank you for listening to A Place for Passion.
Scratch Media audio inquiry.
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