The Conservative Party of Canada is committed to a law-and-order agenda.
Strengthened and toughened sentencing is a key part of that agenda.
Sentencing reduces crime through "incapacitation". It is hard to rob a bank when you're in prison, so an incarcerated offender is an incapacitated offender.
Yet incapacitating potential offenders through incarceration has two key disadvantages. First, people usually have to commit a crime before they can be imprisoned, which limits its crime-preventing power. Second, prisons are expensive.
In a seminal 2009 paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (ungated here), Gordon Dahl and Stefano Della Vigna describe a powerful and low-cost strategy for reducing crime: voluntary incapacitation of at-risk youth.
Voluntary incapacitation has a significant impact on violent crime: using US data, Dahl and Della Vigna estimate that even limited voluntary incapacitation can deter 175 assaults daily.
Best of all, voluntary incapacitation can be achieved without a costly expansion of our prisons or law enforcement agencies.
A blockbuster violent movie is enough to get youth off the street. Using nation-wide US figures, Dahl and Della Vigna find that "an increase of one million in the audience for violent movies reduces violent crime by 0.5 to 0.9 percent." (Part of this is due to the incapacitation effect, part is also due to decreased alcohol consumption).
Yet even a great movie will only lead to a few days of voluntary incapacitation. Is there a way of getting at-risk youth off the street for longer?
A study by Michael Ward published this month in Contemporary Economic Policy (earlier version ungated here) suggests that there is. He finds that an increase in video game availability, as measured by the number of video game stores, leads to a significant reduction in rates of robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and mortality.
Video game availability makes more difference than police officers, Ward argues. He found that the relationship between crime rates and the number of police officers was statistically insignificant, except in the case of robbery.
There are some questions about Ward's study - it is possible that his results reflect, in part, the negative impact of crime rates on video game stores opening - although he does check for and discuss this possible reverse causality.
Ward's work confirms the potentially powerful effect of voluntary incapacitation. Why lock potential criminals up at vast expense when you can give them Call of Duty and they'll lock themselves up?
But if I'm looking for a study that represents Canadian Conservative values, I don't turn to US-based academic journals. I look to the work of the Fraser Institute, and advocates of economic freedom, such as Stephen Easton.
In a Fraser Institute commentary, Professor Easton sets a powerful crime-fighting strategy: the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Because marijuana consumption and use is so widespread, he argues:
... the broader social question becomes less about whether we approve or disapprove of local production, but rather who shall enjoy the spoils. As it stands now, growers and distributors pay some of the costs and reap all of the benefits of the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry, while the non- marijuana-smoking tax-payer sees only costs.
Easton's conclusion concurs with Canadian Medical Association's assessment of marijuana use, "The real harm is the legal and social fallout." To minimize that harm, the CMA advocates de-criminalization.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper has promised to cut one old regulation for every new one introduced.
Here's a suggestion: when the new law and order regulations are brought in, loosen the out-dated, cumbersome regulations on Canada's cannabis market.