Tough on Crime Approach and Its Characteristics in Criminal Justice
The tough on crime approach can be defined as a system where the only response to criminal acts is punishment, and severe punishment at that. Tough on crime approach is considered as a conservative approach to criminal justice and in most cases meant to not only deter crime, but also effectively eliminate the bad elements from the society. Within this approach, the punishment is excessively harsh in that the sentences are relatively longer and the possibility of the death penalty is constantly lurking in each trial. The tough on crime approach to criminal justice does not recognize or appreciate the concept of rehabilitation or corrective incarceration but rather makes examples out of criminals regardless of their circumstances. In essence, the tough on crime approach is a set of policies that make it rather impossible for the criminal to get a second chance regardless of their crime. These policies shun the idea of a reform and thus aim to expel the cancer, that a crime is, from the society, often with little success.
In the Canadian context, the tough on crime approach can be considered as one of the main objectives of Stephen Harper government. The proponents of the tough on crime approach believe that extremely punitive punishments will deter and eventually reduce the rate of crime in the country. Since its ascension to power, the Conservative Government in Canada has been ratifying policies that strengthen punishment as sole response to crime. The government has strengthened three strikes programs, enhanced the quality of life policing and relegated to the periphery rehabilitation programs. The conservative government wants the judiciary to prioritize deterrence through harsh penalties as the only solution to crime.
Characteristics of the tough on crime approach vary depending on the country. The major characteristics however are in line with the inability to consider rehabilitation and correctional procedures for the criminals, harsh sentences for minor crimes and the death penalty for a number of offences. The tough on crime approach to criminal justice considers punishment as the only response to crime, and thus foregoes procedures such as juvenile detention and rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities and parole programs among other significant aspects of criminal justice. This system does not recognize the rights of the accused and in most cases, they are considered as the third class citizens once they break the law.
In addition, this approach prescribes very harsh sentences for crimes that are otherwise labeled victimless and may be given minor terms and alternative sentences that may promote reform and rehabilitation of the criminal. As such, countries that practice this approach are not known to have rehabilitation and correctional facilities for criminals, but rather have prisons where these individuals serve their terms with a high probability of being rearrested once they complete their terms given that they have no opportunities for rehabilitation into the society and are rather treated like outsiders even when they complete their punishment.
The Criticisms of the Approach
Some criticisms of the tough on crime approach to criminal justice includes a negative influence on public opinion; in Canada the citizens have been made to believe that crime is rampant and that the streets are not safe at all for them. This happens despite the studies that have shown reduced crime rates in the country, and the fact that very few citizens have actually encountered crime at a personal level. By spending a lot of time and taxpayers resources on a matter that is not as important as it is purported to be, the government actually ends up creating a negative public opinion with respect to crime. Thus Canadian people are not only afraid of being caught in criminal activities; they are also terrified of being out on the streets given the idea that the country is very dangerous. This misperception is deliberately propagated by the government to justify their unnecessary focus on the countrys previously efficient criminal justice system. This implies that the tough on crime approach is only relevant in countries where the crime rates have gone through the roof, but Canadian statistics actually indicates a downward trend in crime rates for the past 20 or so years.
Another critical aspect is that the crime rates end up increasing rather than decreasing given the increased focus on profiling and stereotyping in terms of crime and poverty as well as ethnicity. Tough on crime policies increase the focus on criminal activities, thus further increasing the incidence of racial and financial profiling, community surveillance and suspicion. Rather than keeping the streets safe, this approach ends up dividing the society by racial and economic lines thus increasing the incidence of violence and crime especially by those who feel discriminated. This also spreads fear in the community and increases suspicion rather than instilling calm and security.
In addition, tough on crime approach is often seen as stigmatization on convicted felons in criminal justice. Rather than embracing rehabilitation, the Canadian system has specifically encouraged fear and discrimination against people who have been incarcerated thus increasing their chances of getting back into crime seeing as they are no longer accepted in the society. Rehabilitating these felons has been a credible way of keeping them off the streets once they complete their prison terms. Keeping them isolated however breeds hostility against the public and thus they fail to fit in with the society once they are done with their sentences. This is a primary reason why the number of convicted felons who get rearrested for even more severe crimes seems much higher than expected in Canada. Going to prison in this country is like having ones fate sealed, as there are absolutely no second chances. The tough on crime approach is thus considered as the one that does not really lower the crime rates within a country. The question of whether is actually increases criminal activity remains a subject for deliberation and Canada is likely to become a model for this study if the government keeps up the commitment towards the tough on crime approach to criminal justice.
Personal Opinion on the Tough on Crime Approach
Effective handling of crime is not about spreading fear and committing such high percentages of government revenue to the criminal justice systems. I disagree with this method of dealing with crime due to a number of factors in terms of the basis of the approach and its outcomes as seen specifically in Canada. First, the tough on crime approach is based on the ideology that crime itself is a cause and not a consequence. There are quite a number of studies that have shown the relationship between crime and poverty, where countries with high poverty rates are often seen to have equally high crime rates. People are often pushed into crime by the need to make ends meet, and this is where the emphasis should be put on as opposed to the war on crime itself. While I do not seek to justify crime, I believe that dealing with it effectively would require handling its causative factors and poverty is one of them in particular.
The second reason for disagreeing is that the approach has so far failed to reduce crime rates owing to the negative impacts that it has on those incarcerated. Tough on crime approach hardens up the criminals, thus making them a permanent sore to the society. It eliminates all chances of rehabilitation, thus requiring the government to either lock them up for the whole life or risk continuously running battles with seasoned felons who have lost a hope of returning to their initial state of freedom and inconspicuousness. Being this tough on criminals not only destroys their lives but also the faith of the society seeing as they are unable to fit back in and rebuild their lives after incarceration. In essence, the point of the criminal justice system is to facilitate justice for the victim and the offender. The crime should indeed be punished, but the punishment should fit the crime. Handing out harsher sentences and destroying the felons chances for rehabilitation is too severe regardless of the crime and it increases their chances of relapsing into crime even after completing the sentence.
In addition, being tough on crime is very expensive and more often than not the citizens have other issues that they need to address even more urgently. The Canadian government, for example, should be spending more time on issues of public health, education and environmental degradation among others rather than focusing on the criminal justice system. Having criminals rehabilitated implies that they are less likely to return into crime given that they will be empowered to rebuild their lives after serving their sentences. This approach is cheaper than the longer sentences, death penalties and re-incarcerations that result from the tough on crime policies. While criminal justice is important to the security of the tax payers, it needs to be efficient so that room can be created for other important investments like education that will improve the nations economy and even contribute more decisively to lowering the crime rates. Even in countries with very high crime rates, the tough on crime policy is a little over the top given that the effectiveness of this approach is more theoretical than practical.