(This article is an edited version of one originally published March 21. 2014 by Marion Lane, on The Effervescent Bubble.)
Canadians who want to know what is happening in the Canadian criminal justice system and elsewhere in the world on justice issues broadly defined, have a readily available resource in to the Smart Justice Network of Canada (SJNC).
The SJNC originated in June 2011, in response to the federal government’s “tough on crime” Bill C-10. It has evolved into a not-for-profit organization consisting of people from across the country with wide experience in the criminal justice system. Their mandate is to promote discussion of what really works to foster crime prevention and justice, to explore the connections between crime and social conditions, increase collaboration between the criminal justice system and other sectors with proven success, and encourage adopting new approaches. Representing years of experience in the criminal justice system, they promote the best research and thinking now available about criminal justice issues, both in Canada and abroad.
SJNC is affiliated with no political party, and receives no government funding. Lorraine Berzins, a veteran justice policy analyst with fourteen earlier years’ experience in the federal corrections system, edits the SJNC website. It provides news, articles of more long-term interest, and more detailed information on the group’s history, mandate, and leading participants.
Volunteer retiree Michael Maher edits an email Communique which reviews the current scene from a broad range of sources. He monitors the internet for articles dealing with criminal justice and justice in the broader community sense. He keeps current on research and publication centres doing related work. He sends out this SJNC Communique to anyone who signs up to receive it, as email. Already, he has a mailing list of 370, made up of retired judges, crowns, public defenders, lawyers, social justice activists, advocacy groups, academics, law schools, politicians, faith-based groups, and groups involved in restorative justice initiatives.
A single edition which appeared in my email inbox is typical and topical. It gives internet links to a variety of stories on legal issues current at the time: the appointment of former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to the Manitoba Queens Bench, the negative impact of the federal Department of Justice imposing a lifetime gag order on their employees, and Jeffery Simpson writing on the Fair Elections Act. It links to a Ontario Human Rights Commission Report on police use of force and mental health, a research report from the state of Victoria in Australia showing how the “crime crackdown leads to a booming…prison population,” and another done in New Hampshire showing that “walkable” neighbourhoods increase community commitment. There are references to two other stories out of the United States, one on minimum sentences in Indiana, the other about federal appeals court rulings clarifying rights in deportation rules.
The beauty of the SJNC Communique is that the editor does a brief précis of each item of interest and then readers can follow up as they choose. The perspective reflects the best thinking in criminological circles and provides readers with resources from which to evaluate current government “law and order” policies and other actions in the legal sector. To join the Smart Justice Network distribution list, send your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. I highly recommend it.