Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting tough on crime is expensive and we will all pay....

PARLIAMENTARY Budget Officer Kevin Page and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews have very different assessments of the ultimate cost of the Conservatives’ new Truth in Sentencing law. There’s good reason to suspect both men’s numbers.
In an analysis released last week, Mr. Page estimated at least a dozen new federal prisons will be needed in the next five years because of the law, which eliminated two-for-one credit off jail sentences for time spent in pre-trial detention. Provinces deal with similar pressures due to increased overcrowding.
Overall, Mr. Page warned, the cost to the national correctional system on all levels could more than double in the next five years, from $4.4 billion to $9.5 billion a year.
There are qualifiers to Mr. Page’s analysis, however. Ottawa’s budget watchdog says he was prevented by government from obtaining all information needed to do his assessment. Mr. Page’s projections were also based on assuming increases in prisoner populations would be met by building enough cells to house all inmates individually.
Mr. Toews, on the other hand, claims that double-bunking of prisoners will moderate the need to build new facilities.
After initially vowing the legislation would add only $90 million a year to correctional costs, by April the public safety minister had upped his estimate to $2 billion over five years. Mr. Toews later said he didn’t wish to "share any more details on expected costs.
Mr. Toews also denied that Corrections Canada failed to co-operate with Mr. Page.
When it comes to the reliability of budget projections, however, Ottawa’s numbers must also be questioned, given their track record. And the Conservatives’ penchant for secrecy makes Mr. Page’s claim he was denied access to crucial data largely credible. Besides, why would he make such a thing up?
Ottawa and the provinces also seem on a collision course over whether the feds should help provinces with the undeniably higher costs — whatever the true tally — of keeping inmates locked up longer.
Meanwhile, taxpayers — many of whom support the idea of getting tough on crime — remain in the dark about the true cost.

The federal Conservatives touted their new Truth in Sentencing Act as a sterling improvement in law that would be tough on crime. Tough on taxpayers is more like it.
On Tuesday, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page released his long-awaited report on the impact of the new law, passed this spring, to limit judges’ discretion in considering time served in custody when handing down sentences.
Hold on to your hats and your wallets because the cost to build and staff new federal prisons to house all these crooks for longer stretches is projected at $5.1 billion over the next five years.
It gets better, because it turns out the provinces will be even harder hit by the truth about the Truth in Sentencing Act. Page’s 110-page report has two scenarios to estimate provincial costs, but he says they will range from $6 billion to $10 billion. Most of those costs will be to build new facilities, and the hardest-hit provinces will be those where jails are already bursting at the seams.
Hmmm. This sounds familiar. Inmates and guards alike at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth have been complaining for years about overcrowding that has created unsafe conditions. Just last week, the province’s largest jail went into lockdown after a ruckus that included a stabbing, an assault and a refusal by some inmates to return to their cells.
Officials at the jail, which has received increased staff and equipment to deal with crowding issues, insist all is well but have promised to review procedures.
A plan by the previous MacDonald Tory government to build two new provincial jails was scaled back into one facility by the NDP, though Justice Minister Ross Landry has yet to announce the chosen site.
But it sounds as if Landry, and his counterparts in other provinces, will soon find themselves building or expanding more facilities to cope with the impact of the new federal law.
At an Ottawa news conference where his report was released, Page said he was "shocked at the cost projections related to the act, The Canadian Press reported Tuesday.
"The provinces and the territories carry the weight of the correctional services system in Canada, so the impact is going to be enormous on the provinces and territories, he said.
He explained that federal correctional costs, $4.4 billion last year, will hit about $9.5 billion by 2016.
That will be primarily because of a jump of 159 days, on average, in the length of inmates’ sentences. Average time in federal custody is expected to increase from 563 days to 722 days with the elimination of so-called "time served before sentencing.
The number of inmates in federal facilities at any one time is expected to increase to 17,058 from 13,304.
The effect on the provinces and territories will be much more severe, Page said, because there are roughly 23,000 inmates in provincial facilities at one time, compared with the 13,000 housed in federal prisons.
Page also expressed concerns over the difficulties he experienced in trying to get information from the federal government on correctional costs. He was forced to use 2008 figures for his projections. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has disputed Page’s findings, saying the estimated financial impact of the new law will be closer to $2 billion.
The truly frustrating aspect of the change in law is that it does nothing to speed already slow court dockets that are straining to accommodate cases in often inadequate and understaffed court facilities. The Conservatives, rather than doing something at the front end of the system that could have reduced the "time served before sentencing, have further back-end loaded an already groaning system by tying the hands of judges to prevent them from using their discretion.
And besides mirroring a heavy-handed American justice system, have the Conservatives done anything to demonstrate that eliminating "time served does anything to reduce crime in the first place?

Imprisoning more people for longer periods will not reduce, prevent or deter crime. It has been proven in the United States already, as an expensive failure, so what makes us think the tough on crime policy will work here in Canada? Longer sentences increase the rates of re-offending due to the negative environment, influences, drugs, gangs and pro criminal behaviours and attitudes and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration because inmates often receive little assistance and support once released, leave with no rehabilitation, life skills, addictions, no housing, no employment, financial difficulties and a reduced support system/network. This is a recipe for disaster. Increasing the prison population will create further overcrowding which has adverse psychological effects on inmates and can lead to increased tension, stress and levels of violence within the prison. Building more prisons and spending copious amounts of money on this sentencing policy will not reduce or prevent future crime. The only way to accomplish that is to rely less on prison and more on community alternatives which are much more effective at addressing the root causes and contributing factors of crime. We also need more prevention programs for at-risk youth and adults. This, is where that money should have been spent.

This is a bad policy which will result in no effect on crime rates whatsoever. The proposed legislation where possessing a small amount of marijuana and trafficking would have a mandatory sentence is ridiculous. There is no judicial discretion. More non-violent drug offenders will be imprisoned causing further unnecessary overcrowding. We should instead decriminalize marijuana possession and trafficking. It is not dangerous, victimless and both parties are consenting.   

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