Friday, April 30, 2010
New "tough on crime" sentencing rules to cost $ 2 billion! Is it working? Absolutely not!
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Wednesday that one part of Ottawa's reform of criminal sentences will cost the federal government $2 billion over five years.
The sentencing changes, which came into effect in February, eliminate the so-called two-for-one credit given to prisoners who spent pre-trial time in custody. As a result, it is expected the average prisoner will be incarcerated for longer, at a greater cost to the country's correctional centres.
In a report expected to be made public next week, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says the sentencing reforms will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion over the next five years.
About three-quarters of those costs will be borne by the provinces, since most sentences are for less than two years and are therefore served in provincial jails.
The federal government refused to declare how much it thought the sentencing reforms would cost when the legislation was debated last fall.
And despite calls from the opposition, it still won't divulge the total anticipated price of its criminal-law reform bills. Last week, the Conservatives introduced bills to kill the "faint hope" clause that allows some murderers to apply for early parole, to institute minimum jail sentences for convicted arsonists and counterfeiters, and to revive two contentious provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act.
The government has an idea of what the total cost will be above and beyond the $2 billion for nixing the two-for-one credit, Toews told reporters Wednesday after many questions on the subject.
But then he added: "I'd rather not share my idea on that. They will come out in due course.
"Our government is prepared to pay the cost in order to keep dangerous offenders in prison," Toews said. "We actually believe that dangerous criminals should not be on the streets."
Page's estimates on the two-for-one sentencing reform came in response to a request last fall from a Liberal MP. The costing is rough, laden with caveats, and will be presented as a price range. That's because the government refused to hand over much of the data requested by the budget watchdog, and his office was left developing its own statistical models based partly on U.S. prison data.
Toews said he has not seen the budget officer's report, but his officials tell him it is flawed — a response widely anticipated by a peer review panel brought together by the budget office to examine its methodology.
"We fully expect government to say these numbers are garbage," said Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, a group that advocates on prison issues.
But unless Toews is prepared to share details of his own costing with the public, the minister has no grounds to complain about the watchdog's work, Jones said.
The sentencing reforms that came into force in February eliminate the common judicial practice of granting convicts double credit toward their prison sentence for the time they were detained leading up to their trial. Judges would often grant the two-for-one credit to offenders because many pre-trial jails across the country are in poor condition.
The new law says judges can grant no more than 1.5-times credit, and only in exceptional cases. The effect will be to extend the amount of time many inmates spend in custody, be it federal or provincial.The federal government will accommodate the increase by putting two inmates in each cell, or by expanding existing prisons, Toews has said.