media release

Rethink tough-on-crime direction: researchers

October 20, 2011

Alana Cook, 778.245.8580;
(Roesch is out of country this week but checking email at
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210;


The Conservative government’s tough-on-crime strategy is not based on scientific evidence and should be replaced with an approach that targets crime prevention, according a study in the journal Canadian Psychology by two Simon Fraser University psychologists.

In their paper, Tough on Crime Reforms: What Psychology Has to Say about the Recent and Proposed Justice Policy in Canada (Sept. 2011), professor Ronald Roesch and PhD student Alana Cook say the government’s policies are not supported by recent statistics.

“The direction of the current proposed justice policy is based on the rationale that crime is increasing and Canadians are not safe – neither of which are supported by literature,” says Cook.

“What is clear from our review is that crime is not on the increase, it is unlikely that (the government’s) reforms will lower crime rates, and there is a large financial and human cost attached to these proposed policies.”

The researchers add that the human cost of the Harper government’s reforms disproportionally affects aboriginal people, those with mental illnesses and youth.

“Early intervention, prevention and rehabilitation are more beneficial in reducing crime in the long-term – and are more cost effective,” the researchers say.

The government’s proposed legislative reforms include mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offences and drug traffickers and the end of pardons in cases of serious violent and repeat offenders.

“This direction…. will likely not reduce crime or better protect the public,” the pair write. “In addition, the justice policies…. will expend resources that could be more productively directed at a range of early intervention prevention-focused programs.”

The paper points out that public opinion continues to show mixed support for harsher punishments for criminals.

The researchers describe the current reforms as a “primarily passive reaction to crimes after they have been committed,” while psychological research suggests early intervention is more beneficial and cost effective in long-term crime prevention.


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