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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Report: Jail Not the Cure For Street Crime

From The Globe and Mail:  "VANCOUVER -- A special justice-system task force has recommended that British Columbia become the first province in Canada to establish a "community court" that shifts the focus away from determining guilt or innocence, to instead place the emphasis on treating the illnesses and addictions of criminals.  "I think this is a revolutionary report," B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal said yesterday after the Justice Review Task Force released its findings. The task force spent more than a year studying the problem of street crime in Vancouver.  "You can't always be sending everybody to jail," Mr. Oppal said, as he endorsed the underlying theme of the report, which is that the justice system has to do a better job of striking at the root cause of crimes.

The report, put together by a group of lawyers, judges, police officers, health workers and social workers, says that society has to find a new way to deal with criminals whose actions are driven by substance addiction, mental-health problems or intense poverty.  The task force calls for a community court, that would be housed in a building separate from existing provincial court structures, with a specifically designated judge and court staff.  The community court, which would be part of a street-crime strategy guided by a community board of advisers, would cluster police, health and social workers in the same building.

The idea would be to have "wraparound" services that would help the courts break the "revolving door" of repeat incarceration, by streaming out those offenders who might better respond to treatment than to jail time.  Mr. Oppal said many of those who are committing street crimes are repeat offenders, and many of them come out of jail worse than when they went in.

"We simply cannot keep doing business the way we have been," Mr. Oppal said. "We have to use a creative approach."  Mr. Oppal described the report as "enlightening and far-reaching."  [Mark Godsey]

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