In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Jailing 14 year olds for life

Posted 11/7/2008 by Grant Mitchell


During the recent federal election, Harper suddenly announced that under a Conservative government, legislation would be tabled allowing 14 year old children to be imprisoned for life.  This, along with Harper’s attack on arts and culture, was aimed at a very specific voter demographic.    Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work and not only did it not work but like the arts and culture statements, it angered many Canadians.  Like myself, many Canadians couldn’t understand exactly how a policy of jailing children would make our great country safer. 

Have the Conservatives any statistics on what miniscule portion of the crime in our country is perpetrated by 14 year old children?

How would a child volatile enough to take another’s life possibly be mature or competent enough to be aware of the life sentence for doing so, or, if he or she were aware, be concerned about that sentence?

In a fit of hypocrisy, the government increased the age of consent for sex from 14 to 16 under the assumption that 14 year old children are insufficiently mature to assess the consequences of that kind of decision.  Yet, the Harper government now wants to reduce the age at which a child can be treated as an adult in the court system. They have concluded that the same child would be mature enough to assess the consequences of a violent crime. It is a direct extrapolation that if a child of 14 is mature enough to be treated as an adult in justice system, then when does the government start allowing them to drive cars, drink alcohol, join the army, and vote? Maybe it explains why they do not see Omar Khadr as a child soldier.

Has this government thought of what would happen to a child in a prison of hardened, adult criminals?  I’ve heard prison once referred to as “crime school” for younger inmates – imagine being “raised” in this system.

How limited the Conservative view of being hard on crime remains. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, they continue to think that the only way to solve a crime problem {one that is actually diminishing significantly} is to be punitive and nothing else.

Imagine a crime policy that says: “We're going to get tough on crime by getting tough on the causes of crime”.  Imagine how little crime we would actually have, how few people there would be in jail if we could only focus on:

Ending child sexual abuse;

Stop using jails as mental health facilities;

Overcoming poverty;

Eliminating fetal alcohol syndrome;

Stopping racism;

Treating addiction as the disease that it is; and

Eliminating violence against women.

I'll bet that if we could do all of those things, we would probably have about 80% fewer people in prison than we do now. And, we would be a much more compassionate and safer society. But these are not simple Conservative solutions to a complex problem.

We have to ask ourselves what kind of nation would we be to consider solving difficult social problems by treating children this manner.   But we are a compassionate nation that believes in social policy that is the right thing to do, rather than what is simply easiest to do.

This lock-them-up-throw-away-the-key Conservative mentality simply breeds more criminal behavior rather than it serves to eliminate.


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