Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Showdown over crime bill C-25 looms
OTTAWA -- The federal government's tough-on-crime policies may be in for a showdown with the opposition over the extraordinary costs of putting more people in prison for longer periods of time.
MPs are eagerly anticipating the release this week of a Parliamentary Budget Office report estimating the cost of implementing Bill C-25, which eliminated two-for-one credit for pre-trial custody. It's expected budget officer Kevin Page will say it will be somewhere between $7 billion and $10 billion over the next five years.
That's far higher than the $2 billion Public Safety Minister Vic Toews gave as the price tag two weeks ago, and infinitely higher than the $90 million he originally said was set aside to implement the bill over the first two years.
Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said he feels duped by the government. C-25 received support from all parties.
"There is really a lot of dishonesty here," he said. "A bill that costs $90 million is very different from a bill that costs $2 billion."
Holland said had the Liberal party known the cost would be upwards of $2 billion, the debate would have been very different.
"Not only are (the government bills) incredibly expensive but evidence from the U.S. and the U.K. says a lot of what they are proposing doesn't work," said Holland. "They're sold on the politics of this but they are plowing forward with bills that will crush the budget of this country."
C-25 is just one of at least half a dozen federal crime bills that will impact corrections costs at both the provincial and federal level. Thus far, Toews has refused requests to reveal the costs of the other bills -- everything from eliminating early parole for murderers, reducing the use of conditional sentences and mandatory minimum sentences for serious white-collar crimes and certain drug crimes. All of them together could have a substantial impact on the number of prisons in Canada, with more people being sent to prison and for longer periods of time.
Toews said his party was elected on a pledge to make Canadians safer.
"We understand there is a cost to keeping dangerous criminals behind bars," Toews said Monday in an emailed statement. "And, we're willing to pay it because it's a far cry from the costs to victims and society of having violent criminals on our streets.
The federal budget for penitentiaries is nearly $2.5 billion this year, a 55 per cent increase over 2005-06. It's set to hit $3.13 billion by 2012-13. Ottawa also plans to spend over $1.3 billion on capital improvements and expansions to prisons over the next three years.
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said the Conservatives have effectively used the politics of crime to get their bills through but he thinks the tide will turn as voters realize these policies sound tough but don't work and cost a huge amount of money.
"If you put the facts in front of them instead of pushing the emotional button the majority of Canadians are going to say it's crazy," said Comartin.
Holland said the Liberals will be looking at policies that still give hard time for violent crimes but address preventing crimes from happening in the first place, including with better mental health and addictions programs.
Tough on crime doesnt work!! It is not effective! Longer prison sentences causes an increase in recidivism rates. Prisons do not deter, prevent or reduce crime and they fail to address the underlying factors contributing to criminal behaviour. They are the schools of crime. Also, overcrowding brought on by mandatory minimum sentences will only cause more frustration, violence and hostility among inmates and lead to further recidivism. There is nothing to be gained from prison and it accomplishes little to nothing.