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

Society pays for the price of crime fixation; fighting mythical crime wave

The Conservatives' fixation on crime despite a decline in crime rates would be beyond comprehension were it not for the fact that tough-on-crime measures do well in opinion polls.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's report shows how much money the government will spend to fight this mythical crime wave. I have no axe to grind about paying taxes, but I do expect some basic openness about how public funds are spent. So why is the government withholding information about the costs of these bills from Page, the media and the public?
We need to talk about more than just dollars and cents. What are the societal costs of throwing more people in jail and keeping them there longer? Do we agree with putting 14-year-olds into adult prisons? We should talk about the dismal lack of focus on prevention.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews talks about "hardened criminals," but many others will get caught in the net. Does the term "hardened criminal" apply to the person who gets a mandatory six months when found to have five or more marijuana plants? What happens to his family when he goes to jail? Can he get a job once he has a criminal record? Does the punishment fit the crime? What is the price to the larger society?
Thanks to the crime agenda, Correctional Services Canada's budget is set to rise by 27 per cent, while all other departments face a budget freeze. I am appalled that the government appears more concerned about crime than about climate change, the debt, Haiti, Afghanistan, homelessness or any of the other burning issues we face.
Is this the kind of Canada we want? What's next, public hangings? Where are the opposition parties? Apparently too cowed to speak out for fear of being painted as soft on crime. For shame.

OTTAWA - The Tory tough-on-crime agenda will cost Canadian taxpayers billions, according to Parliament's spending watchdog.
The 125-page analysis by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page projects spending will more than double to $9.5 billion in the next five years to keep convicted criminals locked up longer - including a multimillion-dollar price tag for building new prison cells and heftier annual operating and maintenance bills.
Both federal and provincial spending are expected to soar with the implementation of the Truth in Sentencing Act, but the provinces are expected to take an even greater hit. The report forecasts an extra 4,189 cells will be required at a cost of $1.8 billion over five years.
Page called the financial impact "significant" and urged greater transparency on the government's numbers to round out the public debate.
"They're large. But we're just bean-counters, we're financial analysts, we're economists," he told QMI Agency. "We don't actually look at the benefits - we look at one side of the equation and there will be some, and there should be some, debate."
If his report pries more detailed accounting from the government, then it will be a good day for Parliament and for democracy, he said.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews rejected Page's numbers, insisting the government's estimates remain $2 billion over five years. And he said that's money well-spent to keep Canadians safe.
"The cost of crime to Canadians is approximately $70 billion a year and the cost of incarcerating dangerous repeat offenders is warranted in that context," he said.
But Liberal MP and public safety critic Mark Holland accused the Conservatives of "dumping" huge costs on unwitting provinces and taxpayers and skimming from other critical government programs.

The federal Conservatives like to talk about the importance of "getting tough on crime." But they are reluctant to reveal the bill taxpayers will face for initiatives that might or might not bring any improvement to public safety.
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page filled in one of the blanks this week.
The government's Truth in Sentencing Act eliminates the current practice of giving inmates two-for-one credit for time spent in jail awaiting trial. Pre-trial custody, with no programs and little time out of cells, is considered hard time.
The change will mean more people in prisons for longer periods. Page looked at the impact and concluded the cost to run federal and provincial jails will more than double, to $9.5 billion from $4.4 billion a year by 2015.
Provinces are responsible for inmates serving less than two years. B.C.'s jails are already overcrowded. Page estimates the provincial government will need to spend between $700 million and $1.1 billion to build new prisons. Operating costs would also rise.
Maybe the sentencing change is useful. But surely not with a price tag in the billions, when crime is dropping and governments are in a financial vise.
The report raises two other questions. Why would the government introduce -- and MPs vote for -- a new law without understanding how much it would cost? (Public Safety Minister Vic Toews originally said the law would mean additional costs of less than $90 million over two years. In April, he upped it to $2 billion over five years. We prefer Page's independent analysis.)
And how much more will the Conservatives' other crime measures -- longer sentences, mandatory minimums and the rest -- cost taxpayers?
Toews says he has a "good idea" of the total cost, but doesn't want to share the information with the public.
Getting tough on crime looks a lot like getting tough on taxpayers.

At a time that crime rates are decreasing, the Conservatives amp up their tough on crime policies? Doesn't make too much sense to me. Plus, evidence and research show that longer sentences and imprisoning more people will not increase public safety, as they may assume, because longer sentences actually increase the rates of re-offending, which makes society less, not more safe. What we need to do, is spend more money on crime prevention programs and reintegration programs for ex-offenders, to assist and support them in their return to society as they become productive citizens. 

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