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Cost of Tory crime agenda ballooning amidst government secrecy

Expensive 'tough on crime' bills don't work, say critics

Credit: Landing image © Thinkstock

The Parliamentary Budget Officer is due to release a report on the costs associated with one of the cornerstone bills of the Conservative government’s “tough on crime” agenda, and the preliminary figures are staggering. A reported price tag of $7 to $10 billion is expected for the cost of passing Bill C-25 alone, which eliminated the two-for-one credit for time served.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland, who requested the report, expects it to arrive on his desk before the weekend, and he will then release it publicly next week.

“I think it’s fair to say the numbers are going to be jaw dropping,” Holland says. “The minister has responded by finally releasing some numbers of his own, but [he is] saying that the total cost of their agenda is something that he knows but won’t share with anybody, which I find very curious. Why would he not share it? I would think that something could not be more basic or essential than knowing how much the bills are going to cost before we vote on them.”

The NDP’s public safety critic, Don Davies, pointed out that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews previously stated the total costs of C-25 would cost a mere $90 million for increased jail time, but he has just confirmed that it will cost the federal treasury closer to $2 billion dollars, with billions more downloaded to the provinces.

“That’s one bill — there are others coming up,” Davies says. “The dividing line is two years — any sentence that’s two years or more will fall to the federal government, less to the provinces.

“If you start adding up the total costs together, it’s going to be absolutely staggering and could literally crush provinces,” Holland says. “They deserve that information before anything’s adopted.”

Justin Piché, a PhD candidate at Carleton University, studies the scope and factors contributing to prison expansion. He points out that Bill C-25 will have no effect on the stated goals of moving the accused through the criminal justice system faster.

According to Piché, the two-for-one credit for time served evolved because prisoners being held in remand centres were considered to be doing harder time, given the overcrowding and poor conditions in most centres. While the government rationale was that too many criminals were extending their stay in remand in order to significantly reduce their final sentences, a study by Michael Weinrath of the University of Winnipeg found otherwise — that most defendants preferred a swift trial or resolution.

“This bill, although it purports to try and tackle those wait times, doesn’t really accomplish that goal because it doesn’t focus on addressing wait times,” Piché says.

The government has also said that it will employ double bunking prisoners in order to increase the capacity of federal institutions — something that violates the Correctional Services of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive 550, and contravenes Section 9 (1) of the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, of which Canada is a signatory.

“We made a commitment to eliminate it,” Holland says of the practice. “We’ve been steadily year-over-year decreasing that, and to turn back to double bunking is very concerning when we know that it leads to higher rates of reoffending, and, at the end of the day, a less safe community because these people are going to be released eventually — over 90 percent of people who are incarcerated are let go.

“The question is, who do we want walking out that door — somebody who’s been subjected to health concerns and an environment not conducive to rehabilitation, or somebody who’s healthy and ready to reintegrate?”

Piché adds that there are already long lists for programming in federal penitentiaries, and adding more prisoners to an already crowded system will make the situation more untenable.

“We may find ourselves in a situation where more and more prisoners have not taken the programming that’s been prescribed to them by correctional authorities by the end of their sentences,” Piché says. “This in no way increases public safety. If anything, it undermines it.”

“That’s the main problem with the Conservative crime bills — not only that they’re going to cost billions of dollars, but they’re not going to work,” Davies says. “They’re not going to make Canadians safer. It’s a double-barrelled shotgun being aimed at Canadians.”