“Tough on Crime” Approach to Criminal Justice

Subject: Law
Pages: 6
Words: 1416
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


According to Goff (2014), the tough on crime approach to criminal justice refers to the use of severe punishment on individuals that commit offenses. The approach emphasizes “punishment as a primary, and often sole, response to crime” (Goff, 2014, p. 15). A majority of people possess beliefs that are difficult to substantiate. One of the convictions is the tough on crime belief. It entails the credence that a criminal justice system, which uses severe punishment on criminals, helps to deal with lawbreakers. Fournier-Ruggles (2011) argues that the tough on crime approach relies on “retribution instead of rehabilitation and assumes a strong notion of individual responsibility” (p. 21). According to Fournier-Ruggles (2011), individuals embrace the tough on crime policies due to perceptions that the media propagate. The media raise concerns over an increase in crime rates and absence of tough sentences to punish the offenders. Eventually, people believe that the only way to curb crimes is by implementing stringent rules. The government of Canada believes in the use of the tough on crime approach to curb felony.

Characteristics of Tough on Crime Approach

According to Fournier-Ruggles (2011), the tough on crime approach has numerous features. The approach is characterized by a high number of arrests. The primary objective of the tough on crime method is to ensure that criminals pay for their mistakes. Consequently, the system results in an increase in the rate of arrests. For instance, the use of the tough on crime policy has led to many people being jailed in Canada (Goff, 2014). A majority of the Canadian federal prisons have witnessed an exponential increase in the number of prisoners since the enactment of the policy. Another characteristic of the tough on crime approach is punitive sentencing. The policy aims at punishing criminals and deterring people from engaging in illegal activities. Thus, individuals that are found guilty of any crime get punitive sentences as a way to discourage others.

Andrews and Bonta (2010) allege, “Increased racial profiling and community surveillance are some of the characteristics of the tough on crime approach” (p. 41). Criminals are profiled based on their race, which results in prejudice against particular races that are found to have a high number of offenders. Andrews and Bonta (2010) maintain that racial profiling is what made the Canadian government come up with Toronto Antiviolence Intervention Strategy. The strategy aims at mitigating crimes in high-risk communities through punitive measures. Indeed, there is a high presence of law enforcers in the communities that are considered to produce a large number of criminals. A majority of these communities comprise people of color and the poor. It signifies that the tough on crime policy is not race-neutral as the conservative government may claim. Other characteristics of the tough on crime approach include the “resurgence of the death penalty and a departure from the juvenile justice system” (Andrews & Bonta, 2010, p. 45).

Criticism of Tough on Crime Approach

Opponents of the tough on crime approach maintain that severe punishment does not deter crimes. Instead, it may intensify crimes. Individuals convicted for minor offenses that get severe penalties might come out of prison as hardened criminals. The critics claim that the use of punitive measures to deal with criminals is barbaric, archaic and simplistic. It demands “a lot of policy analysis and creative thinking to reduce the recidivism rate and ensure fewer people engage in criminal activities” (Andrews & Bonta, 2010, p. 48). Thus, severe punishment is not the ultimate solution to crimes. Instead, the government should deal with unemployment, poverty, systemic racism, and substance abuse. These are some of the factors that contribute to increasing crimes.

According to Eilkann (2007), perpetrators of crime are rather rational actors when they organize and commit criminal acts. Criminals are likely to commit an offense if the marginal benefits of executing the felony exceed the marginal loss. Eilkann (2007) argues that criminals are liable to committing crimes even after their release from prison if they realize that the chances of benefiting are high. The tough on crime approach does not boost the marginal advantage of living a life free of crimes. Critics of the approach claim that crime prevention policies can only be effective if they augment the secondary benefit of living a crime-free life. The use of tough on crime approach does not help to curb crime. Instead, it adds to the cost of controlling crimes at the expense of the citizens.

According to the humanitarian point of view, crime is a social challenge that should be resolved by focusing on its basic causes. Rather than using punitive measures to curb crimes, the governments ought to concentrate on creating employment, lessening cultural deprivation, and offering human services. In other words, the states ought to look for ways to give criminals a chance to reform. According to Goff (2014), the United States has realized that strict punishment does not help to curb crimes. Goff (2014) argues that a majority of the Canadian judges do not prefer severe punishment.

The judges feel that the sanctions deny them an opportunity to sentence lawbreakers according to their offenses. The tough on crime approach ravages families, lives and limited public resources (Eilkann, 2007). The method leads to the conviction of non-violent drug offenders but does not address the problem of drug addiction. An analysis of the United States’ criminal justice system concluded that the money spent to jail drug offenders is adequate to facilitate drug rehabilitation programs.

Opponents of the tough on crime approach argue that the method leads to increase in the number of individuals under pre-trial custody. The antagonists argue that the approach violates the constitutional assurance of supposed innocence. Besides, the tough on crime approach denies offenders the right to reasonable bail. Goff (2014) maintains that a majority of the aboriginal juveniles are denied bonds in Canada. People criticize the tough on crime approach because it aims at protecting the society and not rehabilitating or taking care of the criminals (Mauer, 2010). In return, juvenile offenders end up getting adult sentences if convicted of violent crimes. Mauer (2010) alleges that the tough on crime approach distorts the difference between juvenile and adult offenders. Consequently, the approach deprives the juveniles of the opportunity to join rehabilitation centers. The juveniles are incarcerated together with adults leading to their hardening.


The tough on crime approach is not effective in curbing criminal activities. Consequently, I disagree with this method of dealing with crimes. Using severe punishment like long sentences acts a temporary solution. Individuals that go to prison are bound to come out at one point. Once the criminals come out of prisons, they reunite with the community only to find the conditions that made them commit crimes unchanged. Eventually, they end up engaging in the same crimes. Incarceration does not address the factors that lead to people engaging in crimes. Instead, it only stops people from engaging in crimes temporarily.

The increase in unemployment rate, poverty, and racial segregation are some of the factors that force people to commit crimes. Hence, if a government wishes to fight crimes, it should focus on these factors. Proponents of the tough on crime approach do not acknowledge that the method contributes to increasing in overall recidivism. The financial implications of this process are unjustifiable. Rather than spending a lot of money to incarcerate juvenile criminals, it would be imperative to take them to rehabilitation centers where they can be molded and become influential people in the future.

The tough on crime approach leads to the rise in the number of prisoners. Consequently, the method is expensive as a government is forced to increase the budget spent in running prisons. Apart from the increase in government expenditure, the tough on crime approach contributes to increasing poverty level in the society especially if a breadwinner to a family is arrested. Petty offenders spend a long time in prison denying them an opportunity to engage in economic activities. Once a person comes out of jail, they depend on their relatives for a long time since it is hard to get a job. Such individuals become a burden to the families. The tough on crime approach is premised on malicious “realistic” and vengeance-oriented model. The use of the approach leads to increase in insecurity within the society. Petty offenders who receive serious punishment get annoyed and harbor a grudge against those that resulted in their arrest. Once they are out of prison, they become a threat to the society.


Andrews, D., & Bonta, J. (2010). Rehabilitating criminal justice policy and practice. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 16(1), 39-55.

Eilkann, P. (2007). Tough-on-crime myth: Real solutions to cut crime. New York: Insight Publishing Co.

Fournier-Ruggles, L. (2011). The cost of getting tough on crime: Isn’t prevention the policy answer? Journal of Public Policy, Administration and Law, 2(1), 19-27.

Goff, C. (2014). Criminal justice in Canada (6th ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Nelson Education.

Mauer, M. (2010). Why are tough on crime policies so popular? Stanford Law and Policy Review, 11(1), 9-15.