Saint Mary’s new Department of Criminology hosts ground-breaking national conference on harm-reduction in the justice system

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More than 200 scholars, corrections workers, and social-justice experts from Canada and beyond came together for a fruitful exchange of ideas on harm reduction in the criminal-justice system at Saint Mary’s this past Thursday and Friday.

 Criminology graduate student Omotimilehin Idris presenting during the “Transnational Perspectives” session

Criminology graduate student Omotimilehin Idris presenting during the “Transnational Perspectives” session

For the past eight years, the National Conference on Critical Perspectives: Criminology and Social Justice has been held in Ottawa, and focused on scholarly participants. This year marks the first in which the conference will begin visiting communities across Canada, and also the first in which it substantially moves outside the university’s walls to holistically address issues around crime and justice.

Besides scholars, professionals and employees within the Canadian corrections system, social-justice experts, and non-profit workers came together to discuss new ideas around harm reduction.

“The classic idea of harm reduction is around drug use,” says Diane Crocker, chair of Saint Mary’s Department of Criminology. “And that’s being addressed here, but we’re also expanding the scope to look at how the criminal-justice system at large can harm people, or even how larger social structures cause harm, and exploring how that can be recognized.”

Represented at the conference were universities in Canada, New Zealand, and the UK; criminal-justice experts from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, and the Halifax Regional Police; representatives from First Nations across Canada; and several levels of government.

Government representatives included Karen Hudson, QC, Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Nova Scotia; Denise Perret, Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness; Tracey Taweel, Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage; Lynn Hartwell, Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services; and Karen Gatien, Associate Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Dr. Crocker hopes that the conference’s success will be replicated in coming years.

“We’ve set a high bar in terms of having an integrated conference of academics, community members, and criminal-justice professionals coming together to share ideas,” she says. “This has been an incredibly valuable two days.”

The conference was a joint effort between the newly formed Department of Criminology of Saint Mary’s University, and the Nova Scotia Criminal Justice Association.