Gun Registry vs. "Truth in Sentencing" – when policy is divorced from evidence

So, this morning Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, reports that the “Truth in Sentencing” legislation will cost Canadians $5.1B to implement between now and 2016. Essentially, Canadians will pay an extra billion dollars a year on a program that most experts agree will do nothing to reduce crime or make Canadians safer.

It seems worth looking back at this point at the Gun Registry, which the conservatives bemoaned as been an ineffective boondoggle, but of course it also ended up costing an additional billion dollars a year to manage, and it is equally unclear if it has made Canadians any safer (that said it has helped police officers who use it 10,000 times a day, but whether this help is worth $1B or if that money could have been better spent elsewhere is unclear).

The point here is fear and ideology can do terrible things to budgets (not to mention social outcomes, a billion dollars – not to mention TWO billion dollars – a year on certain social programs could do a lot to prevent crime). In both cases we have policies that appeal to values of a base (tough on guns vs. tough on crime) when in reality this is merely posturing (lets spend money to look like we are stopping gun violence vs. lets spend money to look like we are stopping crime). Tracking guns and locking away criminals feels like it has a direct impact so it must be effective whereas offering more drug and alcohol rehab programs or after school programs is indirect so must be less effective. But notice its what we feel, not what is actually empirically demonstrable. So should we lose all hope in the ability of politicians to pursue effective public policy?

I say no…

While billion dollar lessons are painful to learn (Ontario, e-health and proprietary software is another one that comes to mind) they can be salutary in getting everybody to refocus on what’s effective which means getting back to the evidence. What will be interesting is to see if the Conservative government can adapt. For this government the challenge will be greater as ideology has trumped evidence for most of the past few years. Remember this is the government that has decried Insite, the supervised injection, despite the evidence that it works and even had a Minister (Clement when he was at Health) rant about how the Canadian Medical Association and its doctors were unethical for supporting it. They were of course, just supporting the best medical practice and outcome. So, this could be a long road to travel.

Of course, if they fight the tide, I suspect that the prison boondoggle could turn into their version of the gun registry (especially coming on the heels of the G20 fake lake). But I suspect that ideological fervor in the face of budget realities has a much shorter road… to opposition. So structurally, they’ll be pushed down the road whether they want it or not. Either way, it will make for some interesting political and policy watching.

10 thoughts on “Gun Registry vs. "Truth in Sentencing" – when policy is divorced from evidence

  1. Aaron McGowan

    That is interesting. I also agree with you when you say that spending those billions on social programs for preventing crime, etc. would or at least could lead to a more effective strategy to reduce/prevent crime.

    Reply
  2. Sask Resident

    You don't really believe what you wrote do you? How many Canadians have been killed (murdered) or injured by prisoners on early release due to the 2 for one? Ask the people in Vernon!Yet Latimer, who acted in the interests of his suffering child, spent many more years in jail and under supervision. Truth in sentencing makes sense to me, especially for severe crimes.Also, the Budget Officer's report is on the high side, like all his reports. But he is doing his job of providing parliament with a second opinion. Nobody knows what the costs will be, they are just educated guesses.

    Reply
  3. David Eaves

    Definitely believe what I wrote. It's pretty classic that this response uses an anecdotal evidence (appeal to emotions!) which is of course what both the gun registry and the crime bill do. I could imagine finding common ground on violent crime, but the bill is not restricted to violent crime, it covers everything. As for the Budget Officer's report I find the response fascinating. The Budget Officer's report doesn't even include increased provincial expenditures so if anything it is underestimating the total cost.

    Reply
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  5. David Eaves

    Actually the most amazing thing about Sask Resident's statement is that we can roughly compute how many people WERE murdered by prisoners on early release. In 2006 there were 605 murders in Canada. The overwhelming number of these were not committed by people on early release.Indeed, looking at the breakdown. As statsCan notes: About one-third of victims were killed by an acquaintance, 17% by a spouse, 19% by a family member other than a spouse. (I suspect that almost non of these people were on early release)12% by someone known through criminal activities. Here is where we probably find the bulk of people on early release, but even in this case, is it 10%, maybe 20%? That amounts to whopping 1-2 murders in Canada.Strangers accounted for the remaining 17%. Another place where there might be criminals on early release, but again let say it was 20% of people who committed the crime, that works out to about 3 murders.So essentially, in terms of murder, you want to spend 1 billion dollars a year to stop 4-5 murders. I might know some betters ways to spend money to achieve such an outcome.Oh, and the number of murders in Canada has declined since 2006 and is on a downward trend.

    Reply
  6. Granary

    You make some huge assumptions to arrive at your 2 or 3 murders per year committed by prisoners on early release. I'm sure there are actual statistics on this that law enforcement agencies can act upon.

    Reply
  7. David Eaves

    I totally agree. Would love some more specific stats but couldn't locate them. If you find any please pass them along. Either way, even if I'm off by a large factor the numbers are pretty small.

    Reply
  8. Granary

    You make some huge assumptions to arrive at your 2 or 3 murders per year committed by prisoners on early release. I'm sure there are actual statistics on this that law enforcement agencies can act upon.

    Reply
  9. David Eaves

    I totally agree. Would love some more specific stats but couldn't locate them. If you find any please pass them along. Either way, even if I'm off by a large factor the numbers are pretty small.

    Reply

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