Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of May  2, 2011)


Dismal criminal justice system


  By John Martin


Clearly, the state of health care in this country is going to be the dominant challenge in the years to come. The system is broken, antiquated and ill-prepared to meet the demands of an aging population. Without fundamental change, not tinkering, the system as it stands is unsustainable.

But health care is not the only institution in dire need of an overhaul. The criminal justice system, particularly in this province, is similarly unable to function according to expectations and things are only going to get worse.

We don't have enough judges to hear the ever-growing backlog of cases. Nor do we have enough prosecutors to deal with the horrendous list of outstanding charges. It's so bad that we don't even have enough sheriffs to secure courtrooms and deliver the accused from custody to the courts. Consequently an obscene number of charges are being delayed or thrown out altogether.

The quick solution would seem to be to hire more judges, prosecutors and sheriffs but nothing is being done on this front. Expect to see even more charges stayed as it becomes painfully obvious that the system is unable to provide justice in a timely manner.

It gets worse. The provincial corrections system is spinning its wheels and requires a total rethinking about its purpose and function. Most offenders who are given time are sentenced to a month or less. A single day in custody is the most common length of sentence handed down. This doesn't provide enough time to conduct even a preliminary diagnosis let alone engage in treatment. And it's the same offenders who are being processed over and over again. What do we possibly expect to accomplish with this proverbial system of revolving door justice? It is utterly laughable to think the status quo in any way advances public safety or the treatment of offenders.

Law enforcement is similarly under siege. It takes police longer to process even the most basic, straightforward of cases than it did a decade ago. Numerous jurisdictions in BC have an unacceptably low ratio of police per population. If citizens were aware just how few officers are actually on duty in a given community on a Friday night they would be horrified.

Tinkering with the present system is futile. It requires a complete and total overhaul. But rather than the bold sort of wholesale change and rethinking required, those responsible for criminal justice in this province simply plead poverty and insist there's no need to be concerned given the overall crime rate is in decline.

They couldn't be more wrong. The system is in shambles and failing miserably in each and every one of its mandates. There is a disturbing lack of leadership and accountability on this front that is an absolute disgrace.

The system doesn't need tweaked here and adjusted there. It literally needs bulldozed and knocked to the ground. Instead, we're responding in a manner akin to duct-taping and painting over a rotten front porch.

It's just a matter of time till the dinosaurs who resist any change to the present failing health care system make their way to the tar pits and a process of modernization and private sector partnership takes place.

I'm less optimistic for the failing health of criminal justice.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2011