Justice Is Served

Citizen-driven initiatives support crime reduction

Written by: Caitlin McLachlan, Staff Writer

Image by Rico Torres via jayativora.com

Image by Rico Torres via jayativora.com

According to the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), it costs between $66,300 and $110,400 to incarcerate one offender for one year in Canada. Taking into consideration the frequency of repeat offenders, does it really make sense to build bigger jails? Fortunately for us, there is another way.

Edmund Burke, a well-known Irish political theorist, once said, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without.” In other words: you do the crime, you do the time.

Traditionally, crime and punishment have been regarded as two faces on the same coin, and the cost of justice ain’t cheap. According to a study published in Crime Prevention Digest II, as of 1999, achieving a 10% reduction in crime through incarceration costs tax payers seven times more than it would have through social development initiatives.

As advocates for social development, the CCSD highlights it as one of three major avenues to successful crime prevention. The other avenues include situational approaches (improved lighting in public places, self-defense classes, etc.) and police/courts/corrections.

Our House: social development in the private sector

In the spring of 2007, Alberta faced a serious affordable housing crisis. In Edmonton alone, it left more than 200 people homeless. The CCSD reports that residents of poor quality housing are proven to be at risk for behavioural and educational problems, both of which are linked to a higher likelihood of criminal behaviour.

In response to the growing prevalence of homelessness in Edmonton, Dave Martyshuk, CEO of Martyshuk Housing took action. “(The company) is a profit driven corporation. We’ve just happened to make a business out of contributing to the abolishment of homelessness,” says Martyshuk. “It’s never been attempted before anywhere in Canada.”

The business began as an employee housing company in 2004. By 2007, it had become a driving force in Edmonton’s private sector “movement to abolish homelessness.”

“We’re now hosting 208 previously homeless individuals and we will be up to 600 by March,” says Martyshuk. “We just took on another 200 bed complex and a 174 unit apartment building. It’s a lot of people, but we still have 2,400 to go after that.”

The corporation’s vision of a homeless-free community involves a network of private, social, and public sector partners that work together toward this common goal. “(The network) is very large,” says Martyshuk, “it’s kind of like counting the dots.”

Martyshuk Housing works closely with Community Services, addictions experts, home care services, and Edmonton Police Service to provide it’s hard to house residents with safe, healthy, and supportive permanent living arrangements. One partner the corporation works closely with is Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH). It’s a program that provides financial and health related assistance to eligible adults with a disability.

“If you put $1,500 into the hands of someone who is addicted to crack cocaine, he’s not going to pay his rent” says Martyshuk. “AISH and Community Services send us a third party payment on behalf of this individual to ensure that his rent is paid.”

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