Vancouver is starting a community court as an attempt to stop filling up the court system with repeat criminals who happen to be drug addicts and stuck in the perpetual cycle of addiction>money>crime>drugs>addiction.
There are several stats that contribute to trying something new. I’ve always contended that our criminal justice system is broken. The Downtown Eastside is considered the poorest postal code in Canada, as well as having the worst and largest number of addicts. Vancouver suffers from a high number of crimes ranging from car to house break-ins. Many of these can be contributed to addicts looking for that fix and needing money. So in their jittery, drug addled state, they trash cars, or steal purses and backpacks or invade homes.
I’m not speaking speculatively but as someone who has been a victim of these crimes. I’m not particularly rich, don’t drive an expensive car and don’t live in a ritzy neighborhood. That doesn’t matter in Vancouver. When I had a Honda Civic (the most stolen car in BC at the time) it was broken into sixteen times. Licence plate, registration, sunglasses, ashtray w/coins, first aid kit, half a tire jack, gear shift knob, cassette tapes, etc. were taken. Some can be contributed to kids and car thieves (gear shift knob, licence) but the ease of getting into a Honda was well known.
Although the break-ins happened all over the city, the majority happened where I live in East Vancouver. My next door neighbor, who at one point had a nice heritage house, became an addict. We had no proof that he was the perpetrator but the crime rate on our street was very high while he could still pay the mortgage on his place. My apartment (part of a heritage house) was broken into when I was away but my landlords were watching it and at home that night. We’re pretty sure it was the drug addict neighbor who even seemed to be paying a couple of teenagers to scout out places.
Twice more my place has been invaded. The second time I was actually home and someone walked into my back door (facing into the back yard) and took my purse. I suspect it was my no longer homeowner neighbor who had lost his house to drugs. The last time was last year when some other addict crowbarred my French patio doors and stole my camera.
This happens time and time again in Vancouver and although some criminals are of a higher organization, most of these crimes are caused by drug addictions, homelessness and sometime mental health concerns. Locking up these petty criminals for a short time doesn’t solve the problem overall. Most get very minimal sentences and are back time and again in the courts.
The community court (that some are labelling Hugs for Thugs) is to deal quickly with the criminals, where they meet with a triage team of counsellors and/or social workers. They’re sentenced to varying degrees, where community work or reparation is included, and sometimes jail time. This court has just begun and has been successful in other geographic areas. It’s the first in Canada and hopefully, along with the safe-injection site, will help keep the crime down and maybe, just maybe get people off drugs and off the street.
We’ll need affordable housing, which there is a lack of for even people who are poor and not yet homeless, as well as those on drugs or suffering from mental health issues. But I wonder how it will work if the addicts don’t want to change. And I know, after talking to someone who was a police officer for 25 years, that those on crystal meth will be the hardest to reform. Crystal meth literally eats the brain, making those addicts the most violent and least likely to be able to get off the drug. They usually have a five-year lifespan from when they get addicted.
But considering the rampant crime and the ineffective court system for this problem, I’m willing to hope this could be a win-win situation, with everyone suffering less from crime and people getting off the street and off drugs.
The official community court, justice reform site: http://www.criminaljusticereform.gov.bc.ca/en/justice_reform_projects/community_court/index.html