The NWT has a high crime rate and few services for victims but at least its revolving door of a justice system spins with the utmost speed and efficiency.
That’s the message one could take away from a recently released report by the Ottawa-based think tank the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
The institute released its annual report card Monday on the nation’s criminal justice systems and ranked the NWT’s 12th out of 13 provinces and territories.
The NWT’s criminal justice system received an overall grade of C. Only the Yukon scored lower.
Using Statistics Canada data, the report graded each province and territory’s criminal justice system based on a number of criteria, including violent crime rates, public safety, support for victims, access to justice and efficiency.
It found some worrying numbers. The NWT has the second highest violent crime rate and the highest property crime rate in the country.
But more worrying are the failing grades the territory received for the way it treats the casualties of crime. The justice system does not refer a high number of people to victim services, said the report.
A high crime rate and low victim services aside, the territory has one of the most efficient criminal justice systems in the country. The median length of a criminal case is short – averaging only 72 days – and the average officer handles a higher number of criminal cases than in the rest of Canada.
Considering that a high proportion of theses crimes are the result of rampant alcohol addiction, poor mental health and poverty, some cynicism is in order here.
The territories had the highest rates of police-reported family violence in Canada in 2014, according to data from Statistics Canada. That year, there were an average of 243 incidents per 100,000 people. The numbers in the NWT were almost eight times higher at 1,897 cases per 100,000 people.
The territories also had higher rates of police-reported violence against children, seniors and intimate partners than anywhere else in the country. The NWT has more police officers per capita than anywhere else in Canada, said the report, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting the crime rate. Maybe a different approach is in order?
It sounds like the criminal justice system is doing an excellent job of sending people to jail but is doing a poor job of addressing the underlying problems.
It sounds like the territory doesn’t need more police officers, lawyers and judges but more teachers, social workers and addictions counsellors.
Which is too bad because the NWT has not had a dedicated addictions treatment centre since the government cut funding to the Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre near Hay River in 2013.
It’s also worth noting that home-grown education programs that could help – Aurora College’s bachelor of education and social work programs – remain on the chopping block after the GNWT wanted to cut the college’s funding last year.
There are bright spots. There’s the A New Day, a program for men who have been violent in their relationships but want to change their behaviour. The government considered cutting this program as well but stayed its execution after a public outcry.
There’s also the new Mental Health Act, which is being implemented this year. It contains new regulations, which allow professionals to take immediate action when a person with a mental health disorder has become a serious risk to themselves or others.
Properly implemented social initiatives like these likely have a greater impact on reducing crime than a gauntlet of police officers, lawyers and judges.
Putting criminals in jail may be good but helping them not commit crimes is better.