03 March 2009

Beating crime with research

Sometimes a particular confluence of news items seems to jump out at me. Such is the case with three recent items: first, the Harper government's get tough on crime rhetoric; second, the concern expressed by science researchers about lack of support from that same government; and third, some intriguing research on FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) in the Prime Minister's home province of Alberta.

The Conservative government has introduced new crime legislation that would classify gang killings as first-degree murder, create a new offence and a minimum four-year prison term for drive-by shootings, and toughen Criminal Code sections on assaulting police officers. Even though the Liberals and the NDP have promised to support the provisions, Harper characteristically engaged in a preemptive attack, insisting, "Look, we know we're going to hear these critics. We know we're going to hear the Opposition parrot some of these critics because they all believe in soft-on-crime policies."

While Harper lashes the opposition for a lack of support for his crime legislation, researchers lash his government for a lack of support for scientific research. The connection? Well, as I have mentioned on this blog before, research can can be a critical tool in fighting crime. It can reveal the roots of crime and therefore offer prevention as an alternative to punishment. A good example is research being done on FASD in Edmonton by the Chimo Project. FASD refers to a range of disabilities observed in people whose mothers drank alcohol while they were pregnant, including learning problems, memory loss, short attention spans and difficulty understanding the consequences of actions. These can lead to serious anti-social behaviour. Indeed, not only is fetal alcohol syndrome the leading cause of brain damage in this country, up to 60 per cent of the people in jails are victims of it.

Researchers with the Chimo Project are finding that with animal-assisted therapy, FASD victims show significant increases in their social skills, as well as in their participation and motivation. The researchers use cats, birds, dogs, even a miniature horse, to get children to open up, and to decrease their levels of anxiety and depression. According to Kristine Aanderson, senior program manager for the Chimo Project, "We spent 10 years amassing this evidence about how effective it is. We've really reached a point now where the world is starting to recognize ... this is something amazing and it really can help these clients."

When every pregnancy is a healthy pregnancy and every infancy a healthy infancy, crime will drop like a stone. In the meantime we have to deal with realities like FASD and research is showing us how to do that. By developing ways of treating the victims of FASD and dysfunctional family life generally, we can save many of them from lives of crime and save the rest of us from becoming victims of that crime. Applying methods like animal-assisted therapy early is better for all of us than relying on the Criminal Code later. Hopefully, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Public Safety are paying attention.

1 comment:

  1. I have published my findings on the connections between prenatal exposure to alcohol and school shooters in the US. The Fatal Link. Amazon.com