Solutions to Crime, Part 1: Peacekeeping Canada


Photo credit: US Navy "Creative Commons" license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Peacekeeping for the Public Good

In my last post, I suggested that there are features shared by the RCMP and the Hells Angels. Both are identifiable organizations or “gangs” which attract young people by offering excitement, camaraderie and the prospect of status and material rewards. Canada can fund its own gang several times larger than our national police force through “incentivized” military service. Done properly, this national organization can draw recruits by appealing to young people’s social and individual needs. Here’s what it can look like…

While students are in Grade 10, they are offered an opportunity to join the military as peacekeepers, provided they satisfactorily complete Grade 12. Volunteers will join “peacekeeping cadets”, showing up on Saturday mornings and at least one evening a week at a designated school or other public facility. They will be provided initial training in first aid, rescue, and survival skills in mock situations. The prospect of becoming full-time members of Peacekeeping Canada (PC) after graduation must be reinforced during their last two years of high school. At about age 15, this opportunity will counteract the short time horizons which are characteristic of many youth in this developmental stage. Above all, their training experiences must be meaningful and led by role models who are competent educators. Once students graduate from high school, they are offered these incentives in exchange for a two-year commitment Peacekeeping Canada:

  • Bi-weekly pay at minimum wage and residency in existing barracks or those which can be renovated or constructed by the first cohorts of peacekeepers.
  • The prospect of earning a two-year “Apprenticeship Diploma” in applied fields such as solar and wind-based power generation, electronics, construction, hazardous waste collection, parks and recreation maintenance, fisheries, forestry, or agriculture, subject to local opportunities.
  • Applied experience as peacekeepers who have as their mandate the protection of the environment, enhancing public space, and other worthwhile projects.
  • Travel to other parts of Canada for public works or for providing assistance in emergencies such as floods and tornadoes.
  • A bonus of $10,000 for completion of the two-year program and paid tuition the first two years of university or a four-year trade program. The second two years of education would be funded with low-interest or interest-free loans. Alternatively, graduates can remain with the Peacekeepers and fulfill leadership and training roles without the requirement to live in residency.

The two-year experience will focus on developing interpersonal skills, cooperative activities with teams and groups, engaging in worthwhile local community activities, health awareness, and physical fitness. Peacekeeping leaders will reinforce the values of cooperation and facilitate supportive communication. A sense of personal responsibility and service to Canada must be a salient feature of recruit’s education and applied training.

The benefits returned by PC would be in the form of lower crime rates, health costs and increased tourism as nation-wide public works improvements add value to Canada’s natural environment and urban spaces. The money earned by the recruit’s labour will be circulated back into local economies rather than being “outsourced” like the practice in many private sector companies.

The logistics of this plan must be addressed, but some general guidelines for implementation could include:

  • Local direction of Peacekeeping Canada’s  public works through provincial boards of directors which include partnerships with the private sector;
  • Continual and ongoing evaluation of the two-year peacekeeping service in terms of implementation and outcome of recruits and benefits to local economies;
  • Funding for Peacekeeping Canada will come from taxing profits made through currency exchanges, much like the “Tobin Tax” as proposed by Noble Laureate James Tobin in 1972 and recently endorsed by Bill Gates.

The cost of Peacekeeping Canada can also be supplemented through hemp farming, manufacturing and sales. That’s Part 2 in a five-part series of ideas for dealing with crime in Canada, forthcoming.

- John

Posted in Causes of Crime, Crime Prevention, peacekeeping | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

RCMP and Hells Angels: Not as Different as We Think!


A lawyer practicing in Nanaimo once told me, “There’s only two gangs in town. One has a clubhouse and the other has a headquarters”.

The lawyer’s views were informed by what he considered to be the group’s ability to avoid convictions for breaking the law. When I later thought about what he said, the similarities between the organizations stirred my sociological imagination. As outrageous as the comparison may seem, there’s an element of truth to his comparison. Consider, for example, the following elements of these two social groups:

  • Both can be identified through their highly visible ‘uniforms’ which display paramilitary symbols and nomenclature indicating the organizational rank and status of their members.
  • The RCMP crest and Hells Angels insignia are copyright protected.
  • The RCMP and HA have fortress-style work/meeting places which exclude members of the public except on official business or by invitation.
  • Both groups elicit public deference – if not a certain element of fear.
  • Each group has a sophisticated process to screen membership. Members can be sanctioned by the group for rule infractions, up to and including banning members.
  • Both groups have a process for evicting members for breaking the rules – even if they not broken the law.
  • The groups have public events (e.g., the RCMP Musical Ride and Nanaimo’s ‘Angels Acres’) to generate public support and funds for their respective organizations.
  • The Mounties and the HA have public relations designates who speak on behalf of their organizations.
  • Both groups have internal, specialized elite squads which protect key leaders (e.g., the ‘Nomads’ and Prime Minister Harper’s RCMP security detail).
  • Some young men aspire to members of either group, attracted to the social status and potential for upward mobility within the organizations.
  • Both groups raise money for charity (e.g., “Cops for Cancer” and participation with a Christmas “toy ride”).
  • Both organizations claim their members are generally law-abiding except for the occasional “bad apple”.
  • Both groups use force, including lethal force, to achieve their respective organizational mandates.
  • Members of each group are relatively insulated from conviction for homicides involved in the course of their activities.
  • The groups both stage ‘memorial rides’ for their ‘fallen members’.

The greater lesson in this list of similarities is that there is something which attracts people to groups which offer camaraderie, public respect, and material security. The “gang”, broadly conceived, can be any identifiable status group including teachers, physicians, professors, and trades people such as mechanics and electricians (and their respective unions or professional organizations).

The sense of belonging and identity which gangs offer people can be developed to help foster a safer community. More on that topic in my next post: How compulsory military service will drive crime downward and foster healthy communities.

My apologies if I have offended members of either group with this comparison.

Posted in organized crime, Police, RCMP | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

NDP misinformed on Sensible BC


The NDP’s stance on cannabis reform is historically familiar, politically safe, and does nothing to address the harms created by criminal organizations.

Amanda Love (a citizen in Nanaimo) recently asked NDP MLA Leonard Krog for his support to back Sensible BC – a project to initiate a provincial referendum which calls on the Attorney General and police to not enforce cannabis laws. Mr. Krog is the Opposition Critic to the Attorney General of BC. Krog’s response to her is after my email to him, below. 

Criminology Department
Vancouver Island University
900 5th Street
Nanaimo BC V9R 5S5
August 5 2013

Leonard Krog, MLA
Opposition Critic for the Attorney General
4 – 77 Victoria Crescent
Nanaimo, BC V9R 5B9

Dear Mr. Krog,

Amanda Love recently shared with others your response to her email on Facebook where she asked for your position on the efforts of Sensible BC to hold a referendum to direct police resources away from the provincial enforcement of cannabis laws.

You stated that Sensible BC’s petition is to circumvent federal law enforcement, but our cannabis laws have little or no claim to legitimacy. The current prohibitions against marijuana were initiated in 1909 without the knowledge or consent of most Canadians, and legislated by a very ill-informed House of Commons under pressure from federal law enforcement officials in the United States.

Sensible BC seeks to garner public consensus for a rational approach to drug enforcement because the federal government is uncompromising on this matter. Furthermore, opinion polls conducted by Angus Reid last September showed that 69% of British Columbians support taxing and regulating marijuana (72% of whom voted NDP in the previous provincial election). There is no justifiable basis for using the criminal sanction to control marijuana. Any real or expected harms associated with the substance can be mediated through regulation and education of current and potential consumers.

Your claim that “coherent regulations” will “keep drugs out of the hands of children” echoes the current prohibitionist stance which sustains a multi-million dollar organized crime industry. Prohibition actually puts drugs in “the hands of children” by criminal organizations operating in a black market. Marijuana is widely available to young people through an illegal distribution network and simple decriminalization does not address organized crime and the attendant violence in our communities.

Regrettably, the new federal Democratic Party’s official position on the decriminalization of possession is nothing new for Canadians. It was first proposed by a Liberal government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Decriminalization for simple possession echoes the recommendations of the 1972 LeDain Commission of Inquiry and shows little initiative like that of Washington State where citizens last year voted in favour a state-regulated distribution system for cannabis products. This is the kind of progressive, forward-thinking that many supporters of the NDP would expect of their leaders.

The Sensible BC referendum does not “circumvent” the law as you claim, but instead provides the public with an avenue to effect changes in cannabis laws by asking that the Provincial Attorney General and the police exercise their legal discretion in matters of enforcement. The Criminal Code (s. 495) stipulates that peace officers “may arrest” a person found breaking the law, preserving a common law tradition for the just enforcement of law, taking into account the public interest. Rather than claiming to have an affinity for the provincial Attorney General’s duty to enforce the law, your constituents may prefer to know that you support initiatives which hold the promise of creating safer communities.

Finally, I’d like to draw to your attention to positive outcomes in usage rates for the deadliest drug in Canada, one which kills upwards of 40,000 people a year. The Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Health Canada report substantial drops in tobacco use among young people since the early 1980s. These changes have come about without threatening to put a single person in jail, but rather through public education in the schools and media, forcing tobacco producers to display alarming images on their packaging, and by requiring retailers to market tobacco products to adults without the benefit of advertising. The money saved by not having the police enforce cannabis laws can be directed towards public education and developing a safe regulatory environment for marijuana merchants.

I do hope you will reconsider your position with respect to Sensible BC and join those of us who want a legal framework that supports safer communities, as opposed to a policy position which will likely enrich criminal organizations in BC.

Sincerely,

- John Anderson, PhD

Mr. Krog’s reply to Amanda Love:

Thank you for your email of July 29th. As you are aware the position of the Federal Democratic Party has always been to decriminalize for the possession of marijuana for personal use, so coherent regulations could be established. This contrasts with Sensible BC’s petition which proposes essentially to circumvent federal law by provincial non-enforcement. Our goals are firstly, to keep drugs out of the hands of children, secondly, to address the issue of organized crime, and thirdly, to protect the health of British Columbians, and none of that is achieved by Sensible BC’s position. I do however, support the important public policy debate around this issue, and although sympathetic to your goals, this proposal would lead to more confusion and not solve the underlying issues. I simply do not believe that criminalization is appropriate answer in any area of social policy. That is why the NDP supports changes at the federal level to decriminalize possession and support approaches to substance use that focus on harm reduction as well as programs that attempt to counter negative health and social consequences of all drug use.

 I am well familiar with the campaign and how it will occur in two parts, and I applaud the public debates being brought forward, but I cannot sign the petition myself because it is essentially calling on Provincial Attorney General, duty bound to enforce the law in BC to disobey the law of the country. There are other ways to approach this as outlined above.

 Yours very truly,
LEONARD KROG, MLA

More information on Sensible BC can be found
on their website at http://sensiblebc.ca/

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs, Police | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Hole: Canadian Mining Corporations


Caution: The Hole is a documentary which will make you angry.

The National Film Board’s documentary, The Hole, chronicles the history of mining in Ontario, specifically around the Sudbury region where Inco made its fortunes. The most dramatic take-away lessons we learn are:

  • Mining companies actively suppressed the unionization of their employees for 40 years.  This included hiring thugs from a private police force operated by Pinkerton’s in the USA.
  • Mining corporations have done far  more long-term harm to the Canadian environment than any benefits they’ve delivered to the country, save the incomes which they are forced to pay employees.
  • Mining corporations are “above the law” and evade any responsibility for the toxins which are discharged in the air, water and land.
  • Local politicians are powerless to stop the corporate harms generated by multinational mining companies.
  • Federal politicians, past and present, allow mining companies to act with impunity through “limited liability“. This means that no matter how high the financial costs are to clean up after harmful mining operations, corporations are not liable for those costs. It falls on taxpayers to subsidize these global corporations.
  • The public dissemination of these harms was done through Canada’s National Film Board, one of the few outlets for public broadcasting in the Western world. The NFB is not dependant on corporate revenues through advertising.

Find out more about The Hole at http://www.nfb.ca/film/hole_story/

Posted in Canadian mining companies, corporate crime, State Crimes | Leave a comment

Scott Newark Misleads Canadians about Crime


Who is Scott Newark? “Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown prosecutor and executive officer of the Canadian Police Association. He is the author of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s recent study Why Canadian Crime Statistics Don’t Add Up: Not The Whole Truth.” (from the National Post). 

Scott Newark gives voice to a selective reading and presentation of crime data which includes, among other things, that crime rates are far more onerous than what Statistics Canada measures in their victimization studies.

Aside from a selective use of information, Newark uses alarmist language to frighten and mislead readers in his public writings. Here’s a sample of his manipulation of crime information:

Newark: “Canadians can be excused for being confused about the amount of crime in their society. Last year produced horrific scenes of people being murdered and their bodies dismembered, several executions in public places in Toronto, and the media reporting that shootings and stabbings in different cities are on the increase.”

  • Fact: “In 2009, the vast majority (93%) of Canadians aged 15 years and older living in the provinces said they felt satisfied with their personal safety from crime.”
  • Fact: “Most Canadians said they felt safe at night. About 83% of Canadians said that they were not at all worried when home alone in the evening. Of those who walked alone in their neighbourhood at night, 90% said they felt safe doing so.”
  • Fact: “Almost two-thirds (62%) of Canadians believed that the amount of crime in their neighbourhood was the same compared to 5 years earlier, while one-quarter (26%) felt that it had increased.”

Source: Statistics Canada Study: Perceptions of personal safety and crime, 2010.

  • Fact: In 2011, Canada experienced its lowest rate of firearm homicides in 50 years.

Source: Statistics Canada: Homicide in Canada, 2011

Newark: “Statistics Canada also conducts a survey of whether Canadians were victims of crime. These results for 2009 show a huge discrepancy with the amount of crime reported to police. In 2009, 7.4 million Canadians reported they were victims of at least one of the eight specific crimes covered by the survey, compared with the police count of only two million total crimes.”

  • Fact: ““Victims of violent and household crime had reasons for not reporting the incident to the police. The most common reasons were believing that the incident was not important enough (68%), followed by thinking there was nothing the police could do to help (59%). Other reasons included having dealt with the situation in another way (42%) and feeling that the incident was a personal matter (36%).”

Source: Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009

Newark: “The public is increasingly reluctant to report crime to the police, partly out of fear of retribution from criminals and partly out of frustration with falling rates of crime being solved by the police.”

  • Fact: Newark has produced no evidence to support this claim.

Newark: “[O]ver the past four decades, the solve rate for murders has fallen from 95 per cent to 75 per cent, and is less than 50 per cent for gang-related killings. This growing reluctance to report crime to police leads to erroneous headlines that “crime is down.” The real headline should read: “Canadians’ reporting of crime hits an all-time low.”

  • Fact: “Police are solving more crimes than in the past. The weighted clearance rate rose for the seventh consecutive year to 39.4% in 2010, up from 33.5% in 2003. This measure represents the proportion of reported crimes solved by police, factoring in the seriousness of individual offences.”

Source: Statistics Canada, “Police service clearance rates, 2010”.

Posted in Crime Rates, Media and Crime, Police | 2 Comments

Drug Control in Guyana


Sent to the Stabroek News on April 28 2013

Dear Editor,

I am a criminologist who came to Guyana for 10 days last month to visit friends in the Corentyne area. I am also a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) which is an international group of current and former peace officers who are dedicated to drawing attention to the devastating consequences of drug prohibition. I made several observations during my trip which do not bode well for Guyana’s efforts to control the global drug trade.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Guyanese people, there were two events which we found quite disturbing. Both involved being stopped on the Rupert Craig Highway by heavily armed men. Had it not been for our driver who quickly identified them as military personnel or, on the second occasion, as police officers, we had no way of knowing that the intervention was legally sanctioned.

Remarkably, as soon as my wife and I were identified as “Caucasians” at these roadblocks, we were waived through with no further questions. Therefore, if one wants to transport drugs through Guyana, it seems that criminal organizations need only to include Caucasians as passengers in vehicles containing contraband. However, that is not my main point.

The roadblocks and other deterrence-based strategies which are currently intended to deter drug traffickers will not prevent drugs from entering and leaving Guyana, nor will they have an impact on the number of domestic drug users.

The Canadian experience with drug control strategies, modeled after the United States, has focused almost exclusively on deterring the supply side of drugs for nearly 100 years. By official accounts, including two Senate reports by our federal government, the laws are an unmitigated failure and waste of taxpayer’s money.

Marijuana has become more plentiful, potent and cheaper since its criminalization in 1919. Our government has surrendered its control of the cannabis trade to armed thugs who engage in public turf wars at considerable risk to by-standers. Law enforcement efforts to control drugs have only short-term results and set the conditions for further violence as gangs continually fight over market share.

According to recent polls, residents in my province (British Columbia) are in support of legalizing marijuana to be sold through licensed, private vendors, much like the state of Washington which borders our province. The criminalization of marijuana is rapidly losing public support.

As an alternative to a so-called “war on drugs”, we might learn from one of Canada’s most successful drug strategies against the deadliest substance of them all: tobacco.

Fewer Canadian youth are smoking than ever before. Tobacco is tightly regulated in Canada. It cannot be sold to minors, advertised in print or electronic media, and retailers must hide tobacco products behind opaque screens. Consistent public education messages in our schools warns students of the hazards of tobacco but leaves the decision about smoking to them without any risk of arrest for their choices.

Our drug policies to deter the use of tobacco products are showing signs of success. These lessons involving strict marketing controls and education for youth can be employed to control other psychoactive substances. The outcome will be a reduction in the demand for drugs and criminal organizations will no longer control their supply.

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs | 1 Comment

The Immorality of Enforcing Marijuana Laws


The police should now admit that it is immoral for them to enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) as it pertains to marijuana. Laws must be justified on some moral basis in order for them to be supported by the public. Without support, our police lose the moral authority to enforce cannabis laws.

Over 70% of British Columbians support research to evaluate the regulation of cannabis (from an Angus Reid poll conducted earlier this month[1]). This measure of public opinion is consistent a similar poll conducted in the fall of 2012 which indicated that a majority of Canadians (57%) are ready to see marijuana legalized.

cannabis_leaf_cannabis-229px

The law enforcement community influences Canadian’s perceptions about the evils of marijuana, richly sprinkled with war metaphors, the portrayal of cannabis producers and smokers as deviants, and the resultant chaos should the public contemplate legally tolerant alternatives.

One of the challenges for the police is to convince those of us (especially parents) who lived through the 70s and 80s that today’s pot is “more harmful”. They frequently tell us that the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) is found in higher concentrations when grown under the tender care of hydroponic lights. There’s at least two problems with this claim.

First, the insistence that higher THC concentrations makes marijuana dangerous is like arguing that whiskey is more dangerous than beer because it contains proportionately more alcohol. Cannabis users will smoke less to enjoy the same effects – just like those of us who drink a smaller quantity of Scotch than wine but still achieve the same cognitive pleasures.

It’s a tragic irony that more Canadians have died or been injured from the enforcement of marijuana laws, than from any harms caused by the herb itself. The sporadic gun violence in Lower Mainland streets is the direct consequence of criminalizing a product which the public demands in a marketplace where the government has surrendered its controlling shares to the business of criminal organizations.

Secondly, the harms created by cannabis are the result of its legal status , not its pharmacological properties which, for most users, are relatively benign according to the research examined by our own Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in 2002. Any negative effects associated with cannabis can be mediated, according to a recent 2011 article in the Canadian Journal of Public Health by researchers with Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University.

The law creates opportunities for a  black market and endangers the lives of citizens and police. The law is wrong. The law itself must be seen as criminal because of its consequences and must not be enforced by the police.

To have impact on cannabis markets, Parliament must regulate the domestic cultivation of marijuana so that the incentive for organized crime evaporates, except perhaps for a black market to supply smokers south of the 49th Parallel (except in those states which have already legalized cannabis).

The morally preferable alternative to the current failure of our so called “drug war” would be for police to take a bold stand like that of RCMP Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry during Prohibition in 1917.

“No instruction whatsoever has been issued by me in regard to [enforcing prohibition],” he reminded his senior officers in Alberta. Unless otherwise notified, Perry told them unequivocally, prohibition “is not to be enforced by the Mounted Police”[2].

Declaring alcohol prohibition “unenforceable”, Commissioner Perry subsequently cancelled RCMP contracts to Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It’s unlikely that the same pronouncements about the abject failure of our drug laws will be heard from senior police officers anytime soon. Their interest is in advancing their careers and prestige in a police subculture where “takedowns” and “busting grow shows” get more kudos than informed political activism within the ranks. Consequently, we must elect politicians who promise to put an end to the violence associated with the unregulated distribution of cannabis.

According to the latest Angus Reid poll on the topic, 44% of respondents will have more favourable opinions of BC politicians who support “an ethically approved research study seeking to evaluate the impacts of a taxation (i.e., legalization) and regulation strategy to control adult cannabis use”.

Politicians can give back to the police some of their moral authority by not requiring them to enforce laws which cause far more harm than good.

It’s what we the people expect from you.


[1] The question went as follows:

Preamble. Many U.S. states are reforming their marijuana laws including Washington state, which has legalized the adult use of marijuana. British Columbia has experienced major unintended consequences resulting from marijuana prohibition including the proliferation of illegal marijuana grow ops and related organized crime concerns. Researchers in B.C. are interested to conduct a research trial to assess if a strictly regulated (i.e. legal) system for adult marijuana purchases could cut profits to organized crime, raise tax revenue and better protect young people from the free availability of marijuana that exists under prohibition. The study would be ethically and federally approved, involve a pilot site in one community, require key stakeholder support and be halted if unanticipated harms emerged.

Question 1. Do you support or oppose a B.C.research trial conducted by local experts and health scientists aiming to evaluate whether the taxation (i.e., legalization) and strict regulation of adult marijuana use could reduce profits to organized crime, raise tax revenue and better protect young people from the availability of marijuana that exists under prohibition?

[2] Rich Mole, Whisky Wars of the Canadian West: Fifty Years of Battles Against the Bottle, Heritage House, 2012, p. 78.

Posted in Cannabis, drug prohibition, illict drugs, Police | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Drug seizures in Nanaimo fail to stop trafficking


The recent seizure of drugs and weapons by Nanaimo RCMP does nothing to “disrupt supply” and won’t prevent more illicit drugs from entering the city.

girls smoking cannabis

The largest drug seizure in Canadian history took place in the year 2000 when 100 kilos of heroin were confiscated in Vancouver’s port.

Subsequent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2003 showed that, contrary to law-enforcement predictions, the price of heroin actually dropped in Vancouver.  A seizure of this magnitude had no impact on supply. Furthermore, the BC Coroner reported that the number of deaths attributable to heroin overdoses increased three months after the bust.

As a former correctional officer in a maximum-security prison, I witnessed drug use and near-fatal drug overdoses in the most restrictive environment which the law allowed. It’s hardly surprising that drug trafficking flourishes in open society where misguided laws created and now sustain a black market.

The utter failure of Canada’s drug prohibitionist polices to support health and safety is painfully repeated by the federal government’s willful blindness to decades of impartial research.  It is prohibition and not the drugs themselves which place the police and public at risk.

If we want to stop people from using deadly drugs, we should heed the successful regulatory and educational efforts by Health Canada to convince young people not to smoke tobacco.

A much smaller proportion of youth are smoking today than 30 years ago – all without putting a single person in jail.

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In search of Criminology’s Holy Grail


The disciplines of physics, astronomy and chemistry are rumored on the verge of discovering the “Higgs boson” particle – the essential element upon which the universe is comprised, based on experiments in the Large Hadron Collider. Biology has Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory as the uncontested paradigm to understand all living things, past and present. Current research in criminology is taking on a similar trajectory to identify that which is essential about crime or more specifically, criminality. Is criminology getting close to finding its own Holy Grail?

The paradigmatic shift from sociological to individual accounts of variation in criminal behaviour started with a landmark text by Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi (1990). Boldly titled, A General Theory of Crime, the authors reviewed decades of research and claimed that criminology could not identify its independent variable, mainly because it conflated crime (an event) with criminality (a propensity for antisocial behaviour). The cause of crime was simple: low self-control. Their book was initially scorned by many sociologists who believed that, ultimately, the structure of society drove otherwise good people into criminal behaviour and therefore, studying variance among individuals and their traits was partial at best. Even the wide differences between women and men in their propensities for deviant behaviour was deemed to be the result of “differential socialization” rather than innate differences between sexes. Despite the skeptical reception of A General Theory of Crime, low self-control theory has since stood the test of more than 300 published studies, most of which have lent support to its basic premises (Delisi & Vaughn, 2008).

The individual propensity to commit crime is thought by some to be associated with impulsivity or low self-control (Beaver & Boutwell, 2010; Piquero, Moffitt, & Wright, 2007; Raine et al., 2005). The origins of this trait are the outcome of a parenting style which fails to instill the necessary internal restraints in children before the age of eight. Parents or care-givers must monitor, recognize and punish a child through an explicit disapproval of the offending behaviour (but not corporal punishment). Rather than arguing, as do many sociologists, that certain urban areas characterized by social disorganization and high crime rates will motivate residents to break the law, the alternate thesis is that people with low self-control will self-select into these neighbourhoods; abundant criminal opportunities will be available for those with this attribute (Gibson, Sullivan, Jones, & Piquero, 2010).

The failure to restrain one’s impulses leads to adult crime but also other risk-taking, “analogous behaviours” such as smoking tobacco, heavy drinking, using illicit drugs, early pregnancy, and even a propensity for head injuries as the result of risky behaviour. Low self-control is difficult to ameliorate after adolescent years;  it is an enduring trait across the life-course. Its manifestation depends upon the opportunities which present themselves and most crime is trivial, carries high risks, and involves little planning (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Low self-control also has the potential to be transmitted from one generation to the next (Boutwell & Beaver, 2010) and its genetic transference is currently being studied  (Ferguson, 2010; Schnupp, Wright, Beaver, Delisi, & Vaughn, 2012).

A recent study by Terrie Moffitt and her associates has tracked almost every child born in in Dunedin, New Zealand from their birth (1972-73) to age 32 (Moffitt et al., 2011). The 1,037 members of this group have been evaluated every two years with health and psychological assessments, reports from the subjects themselves, their parents, and teachers. By age 11, the researchers had an index measure of each child’s level of self-control. Followed into adulthood, those with low self-control fared much more poorly than those with higher levels.

At age 32, those with low self-control had more problems with alcohol and drugs, were more likely to be single parents, have poorer health and more financial problems, and had been convicted for crimes. They were caught within the health and social consequences of decisions made earlier in life: “Adolescents  with low self-control  made  mistakes, such as starting smoking, leaving high school, and having an unplanned  baby, that could ensnare them in lifestyles with lasting ill effects” (Moffitt et al., 2011, p. 2697). The group displaying the greatest problems with impulsivity had “more of every type of mental health problem”  than others in a comparable group (Moffitt, Caspi, Harrington, & Milne, 2002, p. 192).

Ten percent of the cohort males in Moffitt et al.’s sample earned the label “life-course persistent” offenders – those who showed “stable, pervasive and extreme antisocial behaviour  in childhood plus extreme delinquent involvement in adolescence” (Moffitt et al., 2002, p. 197). They accounted for five times their share of the cohort’s violent offences and were more likely than others to display a psychopathic personality profile. This group also carried the highest load of childhood developmental risk factors, clearly demonstrating the relationship between neuropsychological deficits in their early years and socially destructive behaviour in adulthood.

Not surprisingly, people with low self-control contribute to higher costs for society. Hospital care, mental health services, income subsidies, and criminal justice expenses are disproportionately consumed by this group. It follows that society can save tens of millions of dollars by encouraging the development of internal controls in children if policy-makers make it easy – or the default choice – to do what is healthy. These are

so-called  “opt-out” schemes  that  tempt people to eat healthy food, save money, and obey laws by making these the default options that require no effortful self-control. If citizens were obliged to opt out of default health-enhancing programs or payroll-deduction  retirement savings schemes, individuals with low self-control should tend to take the easy option and stay in programs, because opting out requires unappealing  effort and  planning. (Moffitt et al., 2011, p. 2693).

 Lest we be tempted, it is short-sighted to blame parents for personal attributes most often correlated with crime and analogous behaviours. Impulsive behaviour in childhood and adolescence is one manifestation of Conduct Disorder (CD) which overlaps with the legal definitions of “delinquency”. CD is correlated with neuropsychological deficits as a consequence of brain trauma from things like fetal alcohol syndrome, maternal stress in the third trimester, low birth weight, or poor maternal nutrition and/or drug use during pregnancy (Beaver, Vaughn, DeLisi, & Higgins, 2010; Moffitt, 1993; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2011). In their early years, children born with these deficits are much more likely to suffer from Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which interferes with their ability to learn at the same pace as their non-affected classroom peers. Those children afflicted with CD often pose management problems in the classroom, are isolated by their peers, and end up doing poorly in school. In their early teenage years and without the proper interventions, they generally gravitate towards more serious law-breaking and by their early twenties, have been arrested, convicted and spent time in prison – a pattern that will repeat itself as they age into adulthood. The outliers in this cohort will be responsible for a significantly disproportionate share of violent crime (Denson, DeWall, & Finkel, 2012; Moffitt et al., 2002).

Has criminology found its Holy Grail? While it may be tempting to believe that low self-control is the main “cause of crime”, the theory and research on impulsivity misses a great deal. It has considerable difficulty explaining the motivation for individuals who are otherwise “normal” but use their corporate or government positions to victimize the public as consumers, shareholders, taxpayers, and employees.

The predatory personalities behind the Savings and Loan crisis in the United States (Calavita, Tillman, & Pontell, 1997), the 2001 Enron bankruptcy (Friedrichs, 2004), and the 2008 Wall Street crash (Nguyen & Pontell, 2010) were not forged within the families and neighbourhoods shared by street criminals. These men were cunning enough to risk the fortunes of other people’s money to make themselves wealthy in a relatively unsupervised environment (Prasch, 2012). The crooked activities of corporations reaches deeply into warfare (Chambliss, Michalowski, & Kramer, 2010; Rothe & Ross, 2010; Welch, 2009), including the illegal invasion of Iraq (Kramer & Michalowski, 2006). These are crimes of the power elite. It’s difficult to find explanations for their behaviour which focuses on individual pathologies like low self-control, although there is some recent evidence that these principal actors display the same personalities as do clinical populations of psychopaths (Babiak, Neumann, & Hare, 2010; Bakan, 2004; Ragatz, Fremouw, & Baker, 2012).

Criminology has not yet found an over-arching theory by which to explain the behaviours of those who inflict acts of force or fraud in the pursuit of self-interest, and in so doing, wreak more economic and physical harms than do common street criminals. Only when we have a theory that covers all forms of socially injurious conduct, and not just that which is criminalized by the state, can we lay claim to a “dominant paradigm”.

Our search continues.

References

Babiak, P., Neumann, C. S., & Hare, R. D. (2010). Corporate Psychopathy: Talking the Walk. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 28(2), 174-193. doi: Doi 10.1002/Bsl.925

Bakan, J. (2004). The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. Toronto, Ont.: Penguin.

Beaver, K. M., & Boutwell, B. B. (2010). The Intergenerational Transmission of Low Self-control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(2), 174-209. doi: 10.1177/0022427809357715

Beaver, K. M., Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., & Higgins, G. E. (2010). The biosocial correlates of neuropsychological deficits: results from the national longitudinal study of adolescent health. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54(6), 878-894. doi: 10.1177/0306624×09345993

Boutwell, B. B., & Beaver, K. M. (2010). The Intergenerational Transmission of Low Self-control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(2), 174-209. doi: 10.1177/0022427809357715

Calavita, K., Tillman, R., & Pontell, H. N. (1997). The savings and loan debacle, financial crime, and the state. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 19-38.

Chambliss, W. J., Michalowski, R., & Kramer, R. C. (Eds.). (2010). State Crime in the Global Age: Willan Publishing.

Delisi, M., & Vaughn, M. G. (2008). The Gottfredson-Hirschi Critiques Revisited: Reconciling Self-Control Theory, Criminal Careers, and Career Criminals. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52(5), 520-537.

Denson, T. F., DeWall, C. N., & Finkel, E. J. (2012). Self-Control and Aggression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 20-25. doi: 10.1177/0963721411429451

Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Genetic Contributions to Antisocial Personality and Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review From an Evolutionary Perspective. Journal of Social Psychology, 150(2), 160-180.

Friedrichs, D. (2004). Enron et al.: Paradigmatic white collar crime cases for the new century. Critical Criminology, 12, 113–132.

Gibson, C. L., Sullivan, C. J., Jones, S., & Piquero, A. R. (2010). “Does It Take a Village?” Assessing Neighborhood Influences on Children’s Self-Control. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(1), 31-62. doi: 10.1177/0022427809348903

Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kramer, R., & Michalowski, R. (2006). The invasion of Iraq. In R. J. Michalowski & R. C. Kramer (Eds.), State-corporate crime: Wrongdoing at the intersection of business and government. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers.

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). The neuropsychology of conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 5(1-2), 135-151. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400004302

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., . . . Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010076108

Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Harrington, H., & Milne, B. J. (2002). Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited anti-social pathways: Follow up at age 26 years. Developmental-Psychology and Psychopathology, 14, 179-207.

National Crime Prevention Centre. (2011). Youth At-Risk of Serious and Life-Course Offending: Risk Profiles, Trajectories, and Interventions Research Report: 2011-02. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/res/cp/res/2011-yar-eng.aspx

Nguyen, T. H., & Pontell, H. N. (2010). Mortgage origination fraud and the global economic crisis: A criminological analysis. Criminology & Public Policy, 9(3), 591-612. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2010.00653.x

Piquero, A. R., Moffitt, T. E., & Wright, B. E. (2007). Self-Control and Criminal Career Dimensions. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23(1), 72-89. doi: 10.1177/1043986206298949

Prasch, R. E. (2012). The Dodd-Frank Act: Financial Reform or Business as Usual? Journal of Economic Issues, 46(2), 549-556.

Ragatz, L. L., Fremouw, W., & Baker, E. (2012). The Psychological Profile of White-collar Offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 39(7), 978-997. doi: 10.1177/0093854812437846

Raine, A., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Lynam, D. (2005). Neurocognitive Impairments in Boys on the Life-Course Persistent Antisocial Path. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114(1), 38-49.

Rothe, D. L., & Ross, J. I. (2010). Private Military Contractors, Crime, and the Terrain of Unaccountability. Justice Quarterly, 27(4), 593-617. doi: Pii 912497226

Schnupp, R., Wright, J. P., Beaver, K. M., Delisi, M., & Vaughn, M. (2012). Genes, Maternal Negativity, and Self-Control: Evidence of a Gene × Environment Interaction. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 10(3), 245-260. doi: 10.1177/1541204011429315

Welch, M. (2009). Fragmented power and state-corporate killings: a critique of blackwater in Iraq. Crime, Law and Social Change, 51(3), 351-364. doi: 10.1007/s10611-008-9169-6

Posted in Causes of Crime, Crime Prevention | 2 Comments

Tories take credit for drop in crime


In a recent tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, I asked how long it would take before the Canadian government took credit for the annual drop in crime which was reported this week by Statistics Canada.

I didn’t believe any politician would have the effrontery to make such a claim, but Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says that that keeping the bad guys in longer lowers the crime rate.

Reality Check:

  • The government provides no evidence that their get-tough-on-crime policies are responsible for lower rates of crime. They can’t be criticized for making the “correlation does not mean causation” error because their statements are too vague to identify causes.
  • The available evidence from the United States and Canada says that mandatory minimums have not delivered their anticipated returns in public safety[1].
  • A review of the research for the government by the Department of Justice in 2002 shows that incarceration has little or no impact on recidivism[2].
  • A submission by the Canadian Psychological Association to the Senate Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs earlier this year presented research showing that mandatory minimum sentences are expensive, do not reduce crime, and are unjust.
  • Canada’s crime rate has been dropping since the early 1990s, irrespective of the government in power or their particular crime control policies[3].

[1] Fradella, H. F. (2000). Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Arizona’s Ineffective Tool for the Social Control of Driving Under the Influence. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 11(2), 113-135. doi: 10.1177/0887403400011002002

Joan, P. (2011). Beyond the Prison Bubble. Federal Probation, 75(1), 2.

Nsereko, D. D. N. (1999). Minimum sentences and their effect on judicial discretion. Crime Law and Social Change, 31(4), 363-384.

Schlesinger, T. (2011). The Failure of Race Neutral Policies: How Mandatory Terms and Sentencing Enhancements Contribute to Mass Racialized Incarceration. Crime & Delinquency, 57(1), 56-81. doi: 10.1177/0011128708323629

Welsh, B. C., & Farrington, D. P. (2012). Science, politics, and crime prevention: Toward a new crime policy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(2), 128-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2012.01.008

[2] Gabor, T., & Crutcher, N. (2002). Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures. 43. Retrieved from http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/
ps/rs/rep/rr02-1a-e.pdf

[3] Statistics Canada. (2011). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2011 (Catalogue 85-002-X). Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11692-eng.pdf

Posted in Crime Rates, mandatory minimum sentences | Tagged | Leave a comment