In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Common sense or nonsense?

Posted 2/2/2012 by Grant Mitchell


Common sense or nonsense?

When it comes to the crime agenda of the Conservatives, Bill C-10, the party that refers to itself as the commonsense party is really becoming the party of common nonsense.  An article in the Edmonton Journal, "Prisons do little to help people with FASD get their lives on track", by Nicki Thomas, January 22, 2012, casts further doubt on the wisdom of the crime agenda in its discussion of  the relationship of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and crime.

In it, the point is made that as many as 50% of the youth and 80% of adult offenders in our jails are suffering from this disorder. It affects the brain's development in the womb with the result that sufferers of the syndrome lose judgment, lose impulse control, have real trouble fitting in, have serious behavior problems and frequently end up committing crimes. The Edmonton Journal reports, "FASD can affect perception of time and ability to plan. People with FASD can lack empathy and remorse". They have trouble learning from the consequences of their actions. Most have no idea that they have the syndrome and some do not exhibit the physical signs (certain facial features, for example) that would make detection easier. It is caused by a mother's consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Clearly, many people suffering from FASD end up in jail, and imprisonment serves little to no purpose. FASD sufferers are not affected by any possible deterrent effect of imprisonment because they have very limited judgment and impulse control which imprisonment without programming to help them will not fix.  Given their inability to fit in, they are vulnerable to any form of acceptance and the kind they would get in prison will make them more likely to commit crimes on release, not less likely.

This disease is rooted in physical disorders like any other affliction that we consider to be a disease.  We do not expect that someone suffering from diabetes or cancer can simply will their symptoms away or under control. No. We understand that they need medical assistance and other therapies to combat these diseases. Well, in much the same way, someone suffering from FASD cannot simply will away their symptoms. They too need medical assistance and therapies to deal with their affliction. And there are programs that can achieve success in dealing with it.

The trouble is that with the mandatory minimums in Bill C-10, the judicial system will have very little flexibility in dealing with offenders who have FASD. Too many of these people will be forced into jails where they will not find the programs and support that could help them deal with it and reduce the risk of their reoffending. Perhaps, there is some gain to them being kept off the streets for their period of incarceration, but eventually most of them return to the streets, and now they do so probably more inclined to offend and without any help to improve.

It seems to be "common nonsense" that the Conservatives would not provide the judicial system some flexibility for dealing with this issue. A lot can be accomplished for a lot less than the $120,000 per year it costs to incarcerate someone.

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