Sunday, July 4, 2010
Tough on crime laws are tough to swallow!
Canada has a $47-billion deficit, a crime rate that is falling steadily, and a public that is not clamouring for tougher crime laws. Yet in the face of little real need and even less available money, the Conservative government is planning to more than double the country's spending on prisons, to double the number of inmates.
The Conservatives' latest piece of get-tough-on-crime legislation, the Truth in Sentencing Act, will require about $1.8 billion over five years to build 13 more prisons, and then an additional $618 million a year for capital, operations, and maintenance costs, according to Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page's report last week. The act dispenses with two-for-one credit for time spent in pre-sentence custody.
Instead of using the report as a chance to rethink the wisdom of spending billions of dollars -as much as $9.5 billion by 2015-16 -Public Safety Minister Vic Toews rejected Page's figures, saying he "must be making this up."
But if Page has to rely on estimates, it's because he can't get access to accurate figures. In any case, Page's estimates should force Toews's hand. The minister must know what the real costs are, and should publish them in detailed, reliable form so they can be studied by everyone from Page to Joe and Joan Taxpayer. If Toews doesn't know what the real costs are, he has no business bringing in legislation that can force Canadian taxpayers to pay billions they might prefer to spend on health care and education.
Toews is the minister who first said the Truth in Sentencing Act would cost $90 million over the next two years -at the very most. Today, he admits $2 billion over five years is a more likely figure -double the $1-billion federal gun registry price tag. There's a big difference between Toews's original estimate and his revised one. And he's accusing Page of making things up?
The Truth in Sentencing Act is just the latest in an astonishingly long list of tough-on-crime laws introduced by the Harper government since it was first elected in 2006. As Le Devoir reported recently, the Conservatives have introduced 53 public security laws in the last 31/2 years. Only a dozen of these have been adopted, the rest dying on the order paper.
One effect of the new laws in general is to remove judges' discretion and, with it, the ability of the justice system to react appropriately to individual circumstances.
Excessive costs and negative results should be enough to send a government back to the drawing board. But the Harper government appears determined to continue talking up, and sometimes passing, "tough on crime" laws with few redeeming features.
Getting tough on crime is completely ineffective! It will not reduce or prevent crime and will not increase public safety in the long term. There will be more prison overcrowding with increased tensions, stress and levels of violence among inmates and staff, which leads to angry and bitter inmates being released with little assistance, support and guidance in the community. Prisons are quick fixes, but not long term solutions to crime. If the government is truly interested in reducing and preventing crime, they need to spend more money on prevention programs and community rehab programming, as opposed to incarcerating more people for longer periods.