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Youth Crime Prevention & Organized Crime
What I learned from criminologist Yvon Dandurand.
My guest this week is Yvon Dandurand, a criminologist and Senior Associate of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. Within the criminology and criminal justice department of the University of the Fraser Valley, Mr. Dandurand is a legend. He is known for travelling the world and advising countries on law reform.
Yvon is also incredibly humble. He often has undergraduate students conducting research with him. In class, he talks to students as equals - constantly trying to remind them that problems are complicated and there is no one dimensional solution. Yvon encourages open debates, differences of opinions, and policy discussions. Although I’m not that far removed from my degree, it does feel like our culture has somewhat changed.
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It is a topic I ask Yvon about, as he no longer teaches regularly at the university. Does he see cancel culture? Does he think it impacts professors willingness to speak up? With greater polarization, is it more challenging to have open dialogues in university classes? Many of us, including myself, want to say no. The common trope is that university is a place to have your views challenged, to expand your mind - but certainly in the broader culture it doesn’t feel that way.
In my view, it makes it even harder to learn because tough questions need to be asked. In my criminology degree we had to discuss pretty complicated topics. Is the death penalty a useful policy instrument? What should we do with individuals like Robert Pickton? Why are Indigenous communities over-represented in the criminal justice system and how do we address it? Should drugs be legalized? Should cults be allowed to exist? Are white collar crimes worse than petty crimes? If there was a “crime gene”, what should we do with people who have it?
These are not simple questions, and if you’re thinking there are easy answers to any of these - then you likely underestimate the problem to your own disadvantage. See, people like Yvon Dandurand help people embrace the complexities of problems. Things should be complicated, and there should be a multidimensional approach to solve them. Why? Well, that way if one of your ideas fails (which it likely will) then you have other options.
Here is a good example. Right now, in Canada we have a drug problem right? Any of your friends or colleagues go “We should just do what Portugal did and that would fix things”. I’ve heard that a bunch. You know what the problem with that nifty idea is…. we aren’t Portugal. We have our own cultural norms, perspectives and views. We can’t just adopt some other cultures policy full force and think that it will replicate the exact same way here.
We need to speak to our community members, hear from drug users, speak with non-profits and develop a plan that includes all of us. Just dragging in some other cultures policies often just creates polarization because one large segment of society will likely disagree with your solution and for good reason. Why? Because most solutions fail, and at worst they have their own consequences. Many policy decisions are 2 steps forward 1 step back and occasionally they are just 3 steps backwards (cough cough mandatory minimum sentencing). Yeah, I’m calling out mandatory minimum sentencing because Stephen Harper took that from the USA. It was a terrible idea. Why? Because no criminals think they are going to get caught, so no matter what you set the minimum at - they think it won’t apply to them.
This is all to say that thinking is hard, and great professors make that reality easier to digest. In fact, the great professors make you want to dive into the complexity and embrace it full force. That was who Yvon was to me. As a young man who thought he knew it all, Yvon humbled me.
As an Indigenous person, I wanted to understand the over-representation of Indigenous people and help be apart of the solution. Within my cohort of students, the general vibe or essence was the over-representation of Indigenous people was because someone in the system was racist and we should likely just release them.
Indigenous people represent around 4% of the population and around 30% of inmates in federal prison. This is significant, and the problem with just releasing the extra 26% of Indigenous people is that many of them are accused of violent crimes. As well, many of the victims of these crimes are also Indigenous people. The problem is very complex, and when I brought this to Yvon and said it is tough to determine good solutions to reduce this his response was “Yeah, that is the point of the assignment”.
Now to be clear, there is lots of work to be done in this area - obviously. Education, resources, culturally appropriate supports and other steps are being taken by various levels of governments and communities to improve these statistics. But, this was a reflection of how naive I was at the time. I thought there was a correct answer, a final answer, a conclusive answer that would allow us to solve the problem. There isn’t, that is our job as a society, as a community - to find problems and seek solutions.
Many well intentioned parents, and companies believe there is tie between crime prevention and sports. It is common to hear people talk about how sports allow their students or children to burn off excess energy, develop a sense of teamwork, learn new skills and a sense of confidence. It is also common that those companies suggest that sports can help prevent crime.
After years of this becoming a common talking point, they called in Yvon Dandurand and Jon Heidt to look into the matter. Does enrolling youth in sports programs really reduce crime, and if so how does it do that?
The simple answer you will hear from parents, and well-intentioned companies is that youth can build a sense of leadership, a sense of teamwork, and constructively use their energy in a healthy way. Others will point out that sports is good for your mental and physical health.
As always, criminologist come onto the scene to give us a healthy dose of reality and complexity. In my conversation with Yvon, he reminds us that providing leadership skills to youth is not an untrammelled good. What if one of the youth is a member of a gang, now you are teaching that youth how to become a more effective gang leader… What if youth are pushing themselves so hard that they are actually harming their bodies, and their mental health?
As Yvon explains, sports are great for all the reasons previously mentioned. But if we want them to help prevent crime, far more thought must be put into the endeavour. It isn’t as simple as buying a soccer ball and preventing crime. Intentionality was one of the key aspects Yvon raised. If we want a program to bring about some sort of end, like crime prevention. We need to be intentional. We need to ask who will the coaches be, what role do we expect them to play, and we need to think of the culture we create before and after the sport. One comment a coach made to Yvon was that the most important aspect of the work has nothing to do with sports. It is about the food you eat after the game, the conversations you have, and the community you create that really has the impact on crime prevention.
Yvon and Jon wrote a book on the matter to provide information, tools and resources to organizations seeking to ensure their sports teams do in fact prevent crime. Their book is now available to pre-order:
I believe it is fantastic that Jon and Yvon were willing to write a book on this. They saw a gap in knowledge, they saw common tropes around the issue and decided to not only study it but provide the information and tools for communities to implement reliable sports programs that actually result in crime prevention. This book can now have real impact in communities, and help to reduce crime and ensure people feel safer.
Personally, I’m worried about inflation and not just on my wallet - on our communities. People when squeezed often feel obligated to steal to support their family, and petty crimes often increase during times of recession but this isn’t true for all communities. Some communities become more resilient. They work together to get through the hard times, and they lift each other up. We ought to work to be the latter, work to be the communities that endure tough times together and lend each other a cup of sugar, or cream. We ought to aim to be a community that looks to each other for support, generosity and kindness. Books like Yvon’s provide us the tools to pursue that goal.
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