The Toronto Star Dazzles Us with Crime Statistics

As promised in my previous blog posting, here are some more facts and commentary on the Star’s misleading series they ran last month – “Why Getting Tough on Crime is Toughest on the Taxpayer”, Toronto Star, Jul.19 , 2008.

Prison Cell

Prison Cell

An open letter to the editor of the Toronto Star:

July 28th, 2008

Dear Editors,

In an eight part series of reports and opinion on crime and the prison system that began July 19th, the Star has done the Canadian public a great disservice. The Star’s error, which approaches gross negligence, in publishing this report, stems from the misleading use of statistics as well as a faulty premise.

First the statistics – mentioned repeatedly in the report is the overall drop in crime rates since 1975. Actually violent crimes have increased from 572 per 100,000 in 1977 to 951 per 100,000 – almost double! Combined rates of violent and property crimes have decreased only slightly from 5,038 per 100,000 to 4,539 – about 10%. Further, what the Star does not report is that crime rates had already increased from 1950 to 1975. The Star assumes, incorrectly, that the 1975 rates were acceptable and represented a safe community. Far from it.

Instead of percentages, let’s look at the real human impact: at the current combined crime rate for Toronto of 3,209 per 100,000, more than 80,000 Torontonians – men, women and children – will be the victims of crime this year! But the Star calls us “overly frightened”. That is criminal. The Star’s statistics do not reveal the sense that there is also an increasing number of unreported crimes, from a public that has given up on the system protecting them.  Similarly, the Star’s focus on prison inmates and persons charged with crimes do not reflect the number of crimes committed by first offenders before they are apprehended by police.

The Star’s major premise is that longer jail terms are no deterrent to crime. The people have news for the Star, incarceration is not meant to deter. It is the underpinning of justice, that is, punishment and penalty. People have the the right to a reasonable expectation of safety through the imprisonment of criminals. Our justice system guarantees this. The punishment of imprisonment removes the offender from society to a place where they can do no harm to the public for the term of the sentence. Longer sentences improve our safety absolutely. Even the limits in personal freedom imposed on criminals through parole are not meant to deter, but to protect the public from re-offenders.

The Star’s statistics do not report why rehabilitation is failing in the federal prison system. Statistics will not reveal the answer to the longstanding question since 20th century prison reform began – Can offenders be rehabilitated in prison? How many of the billions in cost of federal prisons is spent on inneffective rehab programs? This doesn’t mean you reduce incarceration rates – it means you change the method of rehabilitation. Perhaps move it out of the prison system entirely and make it the keystone of our early release parole programs. Forgiveness and reconciliation does not mean we abandon our rights to personal safety for our families.

If the Toronto Star, as it claims, were truly the voice of the public, they would seek information that would benefit victims of crime. A victim of child abuse, for example, is neither a taxpayer, nor a voter. They care not for your statistics.

Andy Coats
Toronto, On

Aug.8th. NOTE – Re. the Star’s recent headline, “Anger Mounts in Girl’s Death”, how would the Star suggest the accused, if found guilty, should be punished? Katelynn Sampson’s life and death is crying out for justice.

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