Conservatives and their satraps religiously haul out the ‘law and order’ stick each election. Fear not remedy is at the base of their deploying this trope. No one is against law and order, it would be like being against water, or against air or something; so the fake attacks about who is soft, and who hard, on crime are really just so much fear mongering and macho posturing. The Conservatives’ especial Judas this time is ‘youth’ and the Young Offenders Act.  In urban and suburban Toronto and Vancouver, gun violence has plagued communities, killing young people and wrecking people’s lives. But whether more vociferous threats of harsher punishments get us anywhere in remedying the social malaise of guns, drugs and nihilism is another story. 

Now some love US style tough on crime rhetoric and policies, but the US lead is one we need not follow. We need only look at the results. Their three strikes policy is discredited, their jails are full of young people who cannot read and write, and it costs between $13,000 (in Mississippi) and $49,000 (in California) per year to keep one person imprisoned. This from a fantastic set of essays in Mother Jones called “Slammed: the Coming Prison Meltdown” in which they also say, “Nearly one in four of all prisoners worldwide is incarcerated in America… Today, one in nine African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is locked up. In 1970, our prisons held fewer than 200,000 people; now that number exceeds 1.5 million, and when you add in local jails, it’s 2.3 million—1 in 100 American adults.” There’s more than the whiff of what’s to come in those statistics.

So if indeed we just want to fill jails and build a prison industry, instead of say, a knowledge industry, fine then. But if we want to figure out a deterrence for youth violence then that may take more thoughtfulness. This idea might put me in the category of people whom the editorial board of the National Post accuses of wanting ‘to spare youth the consequences of criminality.’ But I can’t quite figure out how a publication ban on the names of young offenders is tantamount to coddling them. I know I run the risk of being called ‘bleeding hearted’ if I suggest that 14 year-olds are hardly cognitively mature and socially developed, despite the fact that they can be extremely violent. That lack of maturity is what makes young people perhaps more patently salvageable, if one has a mind to look on the world this way. The urge to blur the distinctions between the youth and adult justice systems speaks more to throwing your hands up than to addressing the problem.  Besides the Young Offenders Act  doesn’t eschew severe punishment for crime. But in an election year it’s always good politics to bring out a straw youth. Good and tedious.