Does it pay to be tough on crime?

Globe and Mail Update

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is having a busy week announcing amendments to crime bills.


On Monday the focus of the fix was young criminals. One part of the amendment would make it easier to keep young people charged with crimes in custody prior to their trial if they are deemed a risk to society.

The second would allow judges to consider whether the sentence imposed upon a young offender would sufficiently deter the offender - and others like him or her - from committing the same crime in the future.

``These amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are intended to help hold young lawbreakers accountable to their victims and their community, and instill within them a sense of responsibility for their delinquent or criminal behaviour,'' Mr. Nicholson said.

On Tuesday, the focus was on serious drug offenders. Although Mr. Nicholson offered an unusually sympathetic message for those who resort to non-violent crime to support drug habits, he urged strong action against major producers and dealers and drug peddlers whose clientele includes young people.

"For too long, Canadians have been getting mixed messages about drugs," Mr. Nicholson told reporters. "With today's bill, we are saying that serious drug crimes will mean serious jail times."

And Thursday's agenda will include the introduction of laws aimed at curbing identity theft.

Non of these bills are done deals however, since Mr. Nicholson and his minority government needs the support of at least one party to pass legislation. So far his fixes are being met with mixed reaction.

But is there any evidence strict laws actually deter crime? Is increased incarceration the best way to keep youth from re-offending? Is more strict jail time going to get drug dealers off the streets?

The Globe and Mail is pleased to have Simon Fraser criminologist Neil Boyd online to answer your questions on crime and punishment. Submit your question here and return Friday at noon EST to read Prof. Boyd's answers.

Neil Boyd is a professor and Associate Director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. He was educated in psychology at the University of Western Ontario and in law at Osgoode Hall Law School and is a previous director of the School of Criminology.

Prof. Boyd is also the author of five books: Big Sister: How Extreme Feminism Has Betrayed the Fight for Sexual Equality; The Beast Within: Why Men Are Violent; High Society: Legal and Illegal Drugs in Canada; Gently into the Night: Aggression in Long Term Care; and The Last Dance: Murder in Canada. He has also written two textbooks, The Social Dimensions of Law, and Canadian Law: An Introduction.

Prof. Boyd has also written articles about drug markets, heroin treatment initiatives, injectable drug use, responding to the threats posed by homicide offenders, and the linkage between drug use and homicide.