Mandates vs. real outcomes

Across levels of government in Canada, the promotion of evidence-based policy is gaining steam. With it comes an increased focus on the evaluation of government funded programs and the achievement of mandated outcomes. Yet in so doing we must guard against a too strict definition of what constitutes success, and ensure that mandates don’t risks obscuring the more than adequate success of important public programs.

Case in point is the Federal governments’ decision to not renew funding for the Waterloo Crime Prevention Council’s inReach gang prevention program for its failure to reach its goal of treating 60 youths per year.

Over the course of inReach’s three year program history, the organization has treated 150 youths in its two program streams. What this means to our community, both locally and nationally, is extremely significant. For example, given that that over two-thirds of inReach participants have been involved with the criminal justice system, and forty percent involved with a gang, providing these 150 youths with counseling, treatment and employment support means both safer streets for our community and better futures for those involved.

Moreover, given a research consensus that links incarceration for non-violent crime with higher rates of repeat offenses, programs that keep youth out of jail all-together are the best investments we can make.

The Federal Governments’ decision to defund this organization, one that attempts to provide at-risk youth with alternative avenues for their lives, means that taxpayers will be left to pay more. And given that Correctional Services Canada estimates the annual costs of incarceration for a male inmate at over $110,000 and for a female inmate over $211,000, the costs of doing so will far outweigh the budgets allocated to groups such as inReach.

The Government’s decision, based theoretically on evidence and evaluation, does so in a selective manner that ignores the true impacts of the program. Like the decision to cut over $35 million from the Youth Justice Services program in Budget 2012, the Federal Government’s “tough on crime” agenda ignores the evidence we have about crime and how to prevent it. While the Region of Waterloo deserves our thanks for stepping up to ensure the program’s continuation in 2013, it’s a pity others have opted out of helping develop long-term solutions to crime prevention in our communities.

And at the risk of “committing sociology”, given the fact that the majority of those incarcerated in Canadian prisons suffer from chronic unemployment and low educational attainment, groups like inReach, that have shown an ability to address these issues, deserve more of our support.