Canada's sex offender legislation: 'tough on crime', short on smarts!


 Child abuse is preventable. There exists a comprehensive reservoir of rigorously defined information which will allow us to both inform legislation and ignite the public to demand laws and practices designed to actually prevent this abuse.

Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) has been successful precisely because they build their methods of prevention by focusing on the causes of the problems. New research from Canada suggests that the risk of reoffending depends upon the number of positive social influences an offender has in their life relative to the number of negative influences. If a sex offender is so stigmatized by society that their only friends are other sex offenders, then they are unlikely to change. Circles are based on the assumption that if offenders are placed in communities with more positive views about the rights of children, they are likely to do better.

We want former offenders to succeed, because if they do not, that means there may be another victim. Experts agree that former offenders are most likely to succeed if they are able to re-establish stable lives with stable housing, employment, and family and social support. In addition, for the purpose of ensuring community safety, sex offender therapy must be provided during incarceration, affordable treatment for sex offenders living in the community must be provided, and effective parole and probationary supervision commensurate with a realistic individualized assessment of an offender's risk level. Other interventions known to be effective should be emphasized. We know that making a successful transition from prison reduces sex offender reoffense rates. To accomplish this, as a report published just this year by the Counsel of State Governments emphasizes, resources would be better spent "to ensure that sex offenders re-entering communities have appropriate and sustainable housing options" to assist them during their pivotal transition back into the community. According to the counsel's report, efforts to further stability after incarceration by way of jobs and housing can reduce reoffense levels. This pragmatic approach is crucial to protecting our communities.

The Canadian New Democratic Party appears to be quite aware of the importance of rehabilitation to the overall security of the country:

There is a complete shortage of all kinds of programs in our prison system, from programs that would help offenders learn employment skills to getting education, to simply getting the kind of social, emotional and psychological treatment they need. Eighty per cent of prisoners in our prison system suffer from mental illness and most of those people do not get anywhere near the treatment they need to adequately deal with their problems.

Why is this important? Because the New Democrats believe in one thing. The best way to keep our communities safe is to ensure that offenders do not reoffend when they come out of prison. That is an obvious statement. We do not believe that because we are bleeding heart, compassionate people. We believe that because of self-interest.

This means people in prison ought to get the kinds of programs they need. It means that every person coming in contact with our justice system ought to have a judge, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer adequately look at sentencing alternatives that are tailored to the person, to ensure the person does not reoffend. Taking away the tool of conditional sentencing not only does not accomplish that but will make our communities less safe.

An ideal situation would be a community that has a reputable treatment program for sex offenders, intensive sex offender probation and parole departments with small case loads, better treatment programs in prison, better re-entry planning for sex offenders entering the community upon release from prison and victim advocates stationed in all sexual offense probation and parole units. Lastly, but very importantly, the public must become educated about the realities of sex offenders, especially as it relates to what works best in containing them. Only by creating a dynamic national infrastructure, implementing evidence-based practices nationally, and informing federal and provincial legislation, can repeat sex offenses be significantly reduced. The objective is prevention and the mission is research and awareness.