Portraying criminals as worse criminals
//Marco Ferreira, Columnist

Personal responsibility and freedom to choose make up the backbone of the rights ideological model. You’re in control of your destiny, so you’re in control of your decisions. It's through this lens that the media presents crime, and that’s subsequently how North Americans view it. Crime, like poverty, is presented as a character flaw – a result of weak moral fibre. This legitimizes the theory that crime can somehow be snuffed out by removing the criminal.
Admit it. This is what your dad sounds like after he watches CTV News:

“I'm not a criminal! What should we do about crime? More cops! Lock them up! Letting them go to do the same thing again isn't working. I have a wife, some kids who sit around playing X-Bob all day and I work nine to five. I don't spend my time shooting at people and knifing everyone I can for that dope! And I don't want the people that do pouring through my doors into my house so they can fuck with my HDTV. I just got that set up to watch the game! Took me three hours!”

The media is notorious for building hysteria around stories – people watch it – and a reliable consistent source of shocking news comes from crime. You ever watch Nancy Grace? That show deals entirely with crime. It's like America’s Most Wanted as the news. Nancy Grace is like one of those angry dogs, a pug I think they’re called, and she's always calling out defence teams, and intellectuals for being too soft, too lenient on criminals. Her show tells the terrifying stories of missing teens and murdered babies, all played to background music from the Saw films. There aren't any Canadian equivalents on TV – you have to look to radio or print media for anything as exciting.

A couple of stories that caught my eye in The National Post last week carried the headlines “Siding With the Criminal” and “Family Killer Gets 'Glowing' Rehabilitation Report”. The first, a column by the bloated Lorne Gunter, talks about the crown siding with criminals over victims. In this case, the “criminal” is a homeless man who was trying to enter a locked car, and the “victims” are the man and woman who caught him and subsequently punched him in the face. The second story is news. It describes the murder of a family perpetrated by their 12-year-old girl and her 23-year-old boyfriend. The article goes on to mention “glowing” praise from an Alberta judge on the girl’s progress made under rehabilitation after five years spent in prison. The story is framed against grisly details and a backdrop of troubling data, all of it old, some if it collected from her pre-sentencing. One has to assume the public, in their avid support for tough on crime legislation, is tuning in and pooping their pants.

The crime rate in Canada has been trending downwards for the last 20 years. But according to a 2007 National Justice Survey, people don't trust statistics. The success rate of day parole in 2007 sits at 84 per cent while full parole is at a 71 per cent success rate. But people lose faith in the justice system when it comes to sentencing and rehabilitation. Things are looking good – crime is dropping and rehabilitation seems to be working – and yet people believe the exact opposite. They feverishly support policy thought to prevent re-offences (mandatory minimum sentencing, stiffer sentences). How could they not, with the amount of misinformation and bias served to them by the media?

No surprise, then, that a large part of the Conservative government’s policy is tough on crime legislation. With the population all riled up by that sexy power-fox Nancy Grace, the Conservative government gets away with spending two billion on prisons over the next five years while closing down six prison farm facilities. These facilities are the parts of the prison system dealing with rehabilitation. It's worth noting that there are large bodies of evidence, south of the border especially, that suggest that minimum sentencing and longer prison stays actually increase the likelihood of violent re-offenses, and aren't effective in decreasing crime rates.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives use the fact that not all crimes go reported to quell the argument that the crime rate has been dropping. When asked how he feels about marijuana reform, he says he doesn't want access to drugs around his kids. He throws around idioms like “soft on crime” which don’t really leave any room for debate. These are all slippery tactics, and all serve a tactical purpose. The corporate-owned media uses the same techniques to present information in a skewed perspective. The effect of this propaganda will cost Canadians billions in their funding of a privatized prison industrial complex. And in reality, we will be worse off than we were before.

//Marco Ferreira, Columnist

After years of goofing around, Marco has decided to dive head-first into the world of media politics. He's super excited about it for some reason, and we are too.

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