Crime prevention through social development has been endorsed, and in fact embraced, by many governments and agencies responsible for criminal justice world wide. The Canadian government is taking a lead role in promoting and funding crime prevention initiatives. The government of Alberta, however, appears less inclined to endorse CPSD initiatives as a key feature in its crime reduction strategies. Rather, Alberta promotes the reduction of crime through punitive measures such as incapacitation and harsh sentences. One simply has to review the Alberta government’s proposals for the Youth Justice Strategy for proof of their commitment to retribution, punitiveness, and punishment. We encourage the government to thoughtfully consider the literature, knowledge and experience of criminal justice organizations like the John Howard Society that understand the root causes of criminal activity and stress the value of socially-based crime preventive strategies.

The John Howard Society strongly believes that crime is the consequence of the combination of social and economic pressures which people encounter. The Society has been deeply involved in the promotion and implementation of crime prevention strategies for the past several decades and will continue to play a significant role by encouraging policy makers, criminal justice organizations, and the general public to accept the value and importance of addressing the risk factors proven to be associated with risk of criminal behaviour. The John Howard Society also recognizes the importance of educating the public as to the true nature and scope of criminal activity. The media play a large role in presenting distorted and sensationalised information to the public, which has lead to unrealistic perceptions of the justice system. The goals of public legal education reach well beyond simply making people aware of correct criminal statistics. A community that understands the causes and consequences of crime, as well as the nature and scope of criminal activity, will be more willing to accept ownership of the problem and be capable of dealing with it effectively and humanely. As the public becomes more informed, they will become more involved in achieving a positive change. In other words, a cycle develops in which individuals first learn about the causes and consequences of crime and the benefits of crime prevention and restorative justice. Subsequently, these people will become more aware of their responsibility toward crime prevention and restorative justice, and may develop an interest in participating in crime prevention activities which will ultimately lead to further education and thoughtful understanding of criminal activity, it’s causes and consequences.

Canada’s current criminal justice system is a one dimensional, law and order approach to sanctioning based on the principles of retribution. It focuses on establishing blame or guilt and administering pain as punishment, while it ignores the needs of the victim, offender and community. We must accept that the current system of justice is not able to cope with crime and its causes and, therefore, concentrated efforts on crime prevention and alternatives to current sanctioning methods based on restorative justice principles must be employed. We must challenge the assumptions, language and practice of the current criminal justice system and replace it with crime prevention strategies and restorative justice alternatives. We must avoid supplementing or adding-on programs to the current system because crime prevention strategies and restorative justice alternatives cannot be patched onto an existing fundamentally retributive system if they are expected to have any kind of impact. Justice based on restorative principles endeavours to reach a fair solution to a conflict without the use of harsh sanctions. Further, restorative justice addresses victim-offender relations and makes the community aware of its responsibility to the victim, offender and the causes and consequences of crime. Considering that the only goal the current criminal justice system accomplishes well is incapacitation, there is a real and urgent need for proven crime prevention strategies and restorative justice alternatives.

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