Saturday, May 1, 2010
Crime bills aren't cheap
This week Public Safety Minister Vic Toews finally put a pricetag on one of the Conservative government's tough-on-crime laws. Bill C-25, which ends the longstanding practice of judges awarding two-for-one credit for the time offenders serve in pre-sentencing custody, will be in the “$2 billion range” over five years.
This, however, is just the smallest glimpse into the total cost of the Conservatives' law-and-order agenda. How much will the dozen other proposed laws, which generally seek to put more people in jail and for longer periods of time, cost taxpayers?
“I'd rather not share my idea on that. (The costs) will come out in due course,” Toews told reporters Wednesday.
It's hard to know what is more troubling: That the government may have only an “idea” of the total costs or that Conservatives think it is okay to keep that information from taxpayers.
Canadians who will pay to build new prisons, hire more guards and keep more offenders behind bars for longer because of these laws, deserve an accurate assessment of the total costs. And the government should provide it now, before any more bills become law.
Even the $2 billion figure, Toews revealed this week, may be an underestimation of federal costs and does not include the billions that provinces will be on the hook for because inmates sentenced to less than two years serve their time in provincial facilities.
Thankfully, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is set to provide Canadians with a more credible estimation of the true costs of Bill C-25. His report, expected shortly, is also expected to estimate the costs at up to five times what the government claims.
When pressed about costs, Conservative ministers routine sidestep the issue with patronizing “the protection of Canadians must come first,” lines.
The flaw in that logic is that there is no evidence that longer jail terms do anything to reduce crime and there is some evidence that it makes things worse by creating even more hardened criminals.
We know that the United States is abandoning these failed policies at the very time that Conservatives are expecting Canadians to blindly embrace them. Americans already know what we risk learning the hard way: These so-called tough-on-crime laws cost a fortune and do nothing to reduce crime.
Conservatives have shown they are willing to ignore the facts. And Toews says the government is “prepared to pay” the costs of these laws.
But that decision should be up to Canadians.
And the only way they can make an informed one is for the government to stop playing politics with crime laws and come clean about what this so-called tough-on-crime agenda will actually achieve, what it will cost, and where that money will come from.
What we need, is more funding allocated to social programs as they have been proven more effective in reducing crime and much less costly, than getting tough on crime. Harsher and lengthier sentences actually increase recidivism when these offenders are released. We need to focus more and emphasize rehabilitation in prisons and in the community and restorative justice as opposed to retributive justice, revenge and punishment. We need to address the underlying causes of crime as opposed to using prison as a quick fix. It's not a long term solution. Also, mandatory sentences do not work. They do not reduce, deter or prevent crime. They only cause further prison overcrowding, more trials, and severely limit judicial discretion where judges cannot consider all relevant circumstances of the offender or the crime in deciding upon an appropriate sanction.