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Passing grade

Faculty of Medicine professor co-authors criminal justice report card


By Michelle Osmond

Dr. Richard Audas is really into data, mostly quantitative, and how it can be used to address important policy issues.

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Dr. Rick Audas
Photo: Submitted

In fact, the associate professor of health statistics and economics, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, gets excited about using data to tell stories and provide the evidence for better policy and decision-making.

That’s how he ended up co-authoring a report on Canada’s justice system.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Report Card on the Criminal Justice System is the second report co-authored by Dr. Audas and Benjamin Perrin of the University of British Columbia.

The genesis of the reports was the researchers’ concern that there had been no real independent assessment of Canada’s criminal justice system, despite its cost and impact on people’s lives.

The facts

The report card, released last month, ranks each province’s criminal justice system based on five major objectives: public safety; support for victims; costs and resources; fairness; and access to justice and efficiency.

On a national level, the report card shows a decline in crime rates, with overall violent crime going down by 12.5 per cent between 2012 and 2016. However, it also shows crime rates are not decreasing in the areas of sexual offences against children, gang violence and drug offences.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s performance?

This province scored a B as an overall grade in the report card and is ranked third out of 13 provinces and territories (down from second in 2016). However, it is among the provinces with the highest violent crime rates per capita along with Saskatchewan and Manitoba, even though those rates have declined significantly since 2012.

On a more positive note, Newfoundland and Labrador is among the provinces with the highest public confidence in the police.

The report notes that the cost of the criminal justice system in this province is significant, with the highest per capita cost of public safety among the Atlantic provinces. And while Newfoundland and Labrador has a relatively high average daily cost per inmate, the amount has been decreasing steadily over the last five years and is no longer the highest nationally.

In terms of efficiency, this province has a much higher than average median criminal case length (171 days) and fewer Criminal Code incidents per police officer than is typical in Canada.

The vision

Cover image of report on Canadas justice system“I think the report shows some interesting results, but the big thing for me is that I would like to see much better data being collected and made available,” Dr. Audas noted. “I kind of envision a Canadian Institute for Health Information for justice statistics.

“There are some national data collection efforts in place, but they aren’t comprehensive and it means there are important things about the performance of the justice system that we just don’t know. In addition, there’s some indication that the federal Department of Justice is going to start to produce its own report card, which we think may be in response to the work we’ve been doing. Basically, if there’s better data being collected and reported, we think this is a good thing.”

Unique collaboration

The co-authors, meanwhile, have a unique relationship.

“Despite the fact that we’ve been working together on this project since 2015, Ben and I have never actually met face to face,” said Dr. Audas, who has worked with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for years. “Essentially, we were paired up by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.”

The men conducted the bulk of the work over Skype.

“It’s worked out really well. I run the numbers and Ben helps with the interpretation – helping me, and everyone else for that matter, understand what these measures are telling us.”

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