Wasting our money? Now that’s a crime

Pam Frampton
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“Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”

— John Emerich Edward Acton (1834-1902), English historian

When crime rates are dropping, what’s a prime minister to do?

Why, introduce new “tough on crime” legislation, of course. Legislation that will see more inmates double-bunked and serving longer sentences and put more pressure on courts and correctional institutions.

How much will all this cost?

Well, it depends on who you ask, and when.

In February, when the so-called Truth in Sentencing Act came into effect, the feds downplayed the strain it would place on the system.

Among the changes is a new rule that forbids giving convicts double credit for the time they served in prison awaiting trial, which means inmates will now spend more time behind bars.

Still, Ottawa insisted this wouldn’t place any new pressure on the already overburdened prison system.

In a CBC report Feb. 23, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said “the minister of Public Safety has given assurances that space is adequate to accommodate the added demands on the system imposed by the new legislation.”

Just seven months earlier, then provincial justice minister Tom Marshall was expressing frustration at not being able to get the feds to even look at our overcrowded penitentiary, let alone commit any money to replace it.

Now, Ottawa is hell-bent on stuffing even more inmates into prisons and keeping them there longer, at a time when crime rates are waning.

As with many policy decisions Stephen Harper’s government makes, the rationale is fabricated after the fact, to justify moves they’re making for purely political reasons.

The long-gun registry. The long-form census. Getting “tough on crime.” These are all political incendiaries meant to polarize debate and grab votes.

And in this case, it’s fearmongering.

I’m all for tougher sentences for violent crimes and drunk driving, but not every sentence needs to be increased. There should be emphasis placed on rehabilitation, mental health and programs designed to prevent offenders from reoffending, rather than just “chuck ’em in the slammer and throw away the key.”

Not everyone is a hard-core, career criminal.

Writing in The Hill Times Online in March, Harris MacLeod suggested Harper’s administration was playing to Canadians who believe crime is on the rise, in spite of the facts.

“Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said the government’s policies are meant to appeal to the ‘Tim Hortons crowd’ and rely on people’s ignorance about crime in Canada and the justice system,” MacLeod wrote.

“But he predicted the as-yet-unknown costs that will be incurred through increased enforcement and incarceration would ‘shock and awe’ Canadians when the numbers are eventually released.”

Provincial Justice Minister Felix Collins acknowledges those costs are looming.

As a Canadian Press article in The Telegram Oct. 7 reported, “The parliamentary budget officer predicts legislation that will see many prisoners serve additional time behind bars could cost more than $10 billion over five years, with the federal government shelling out $5 billion and provincial governments more.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he’s only giving the provinces what they asked for.

“They are the ones who came to us and said, ‘We need this legislation.’ So they are our partners, in terms of not only crime-fighting agenda, but the cost,” he said.

So, let’s get this straight: crime is decreasing and our prisons are already overcrowded. The feds weren’t willing to help, but soon there will be even more inmates serving longer sentences and we’d better get our chequebooks out?

“It’s sort of a double whammy,” Collins acknowledged in a recent interview. “We all knew there would be a price tag.”

He contends violent and organized crime is on the rise, even though Statistics Canada data from July shows otherwise.

“The Crime Severity Index, a measure of the seriousness of police-reported crime, declined four per cent in 2009 …,” Stats Can reported. “Police-reported violent crime in Canada is also declining.”

This week, Don Head, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, warned Canadians to brace for a “significant and sustained increase” in the number of federal prisoners serving time.

That won’t come cheap.

According to a Canadian Press article in The Telegram Wednesday, “Head said the crime legislation will mean an extra 4,478 people in federal prisons across the country over the next three years, on top of growth in prison population that would normally be expected. He’ll have to hire thousands more staff, as well as renovate and expand existing prisons to handle the growing inmate population.”

Not to mention the extra services, court time, lawyers, judges and sheriff’s officers that will be required.

None of us will be better — or more efficiently — served by added strain on the justice system.

In an article written for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in March, Paula Mallea noted, “$30 million more per year will be needed just to incarcerate the 500 additional marijuana growers who will go to jail in British Columbia each year. A new prison will have to be built to house them at a cost of $170 million-plus.”

“Multiplied by 10 provinces and three territories — and a seemingly endless number of new mandatory minimum sentences — the financial impact will be enormous. …

“The Harper government should be compelled to divulge the real costs — both financial and in human misery — of what can only be described as an ideologically-

driven crime agenda.”

I’m all for my tax money being spent on a better prison than the one that sits crumbling down by Quidi Vidi Lake, but not if it is built on a foundation of political deceit.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC, Canadian Press, The Hill Times Online John Howard Society of Canada Tim Hortons Statistics Canada Correctional Service of Canada Canadian Centre

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, British Columbia Quidi Vidi Lake

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Recent comments

  • Mr. T
    October 25, 2010 - 09:04

    "Tim Horton's Crowd", wow talk about making a Generalization. Do the "Starbucks Crowd", or the "Office Coffee Pot Crowd" know the real facts? Or maybe the "Home Brewers" are better informed. Or maybe all coffee addicts are gnorant when it come to crime statistics? While under the influence of coffee or not, the one thing I hear clearly on the radio every morning is that armed robberies are increasing, as someone stated earlier. Usually by repeat offenders of another crime. Our justice system is too lenient, it's not 'Just' at all. Even a Tim Horton's customer realizes this.

  • Russell Barth
    October 24, 2010 - 07:29

    To The Editor, RE: Wasting our money? Now that’s a crime Harper is implementing this Mandatory Minimum policy on drug crimes because he wants to increase crime. Why? So that he can justify building a dozen new jails, hiring thousands of more cops, further suppressing civil rights and liberties of regular Canadians, and so he can impose a US-style for-profit prison industrial complex onto Canada. Not only will it cost a fortune and increase crime and the spread of wildly expensive diseases, it will saddle a large chunk of our future work force (mostly men 18-40) with criminal records. That helps our economy how, exactly? This policy has been wildly successful in the US, however; what with more inmates than any country in the history of the world, dramatically increased crime and drug use rates, insurmountable national debt, and a handful of wealthy jailers getting very rich off the taxpayer's dime. This is what Harper has planned for Canada, and there is now no way to stop it. Canada is getting into the US-dominated "Inmate Manufacturing Industry", and your kids are the raw materials. Serves you right for electing these monsters. Russell Barth Federally Licensed Medical Marijuana User Drug Reform Analyst and Consultant Educators for Sensible Drug Policy

  • Esron
    October 24, 2010 - 06:01

    @JAMES Yes, you Tim Hortons types ARE Dumb... so is everybody else. To be smart, as a human is a fallacy, and will be our down fall... We are all idiots, and most of us don't know it.

  • Anon
    October 23, 2010 - 13:54

    6 months mandatory sentence minimum for pot cookies? thats 20 years mandatory minimum in jail for pot cookies. Do you really think that is a criminal offense? Russel Williams barely got that.

  • Jerome
    October 23, 2010 - 13:31

    The crime rate is decreasing. Of that there is no doubt - the statistics show it. What the statistics are not showing is the number of repeat offenders. No, they are not murderers or rapists, but just those who continually hold up gas stations and convenience stores and are put back into society after a brief incarceration. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "I’m all for tougher sentences for violent crimes and drunk driving, but not every sentence needs to be increased. There should be emphasis placed on rehabilitation, mental health and programs designed to prevent offenders from reoffending, rather than just “chuck ’em in the slammer and throw away the key.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In my opinion, a violent crime is one where a masked person produces a knife or gun (fake or not) to separate a clerk from the cash register receipts. I'm certain that in Mondays or Tuesdays Telegram (it might even go until Friday) there will be another report of an armed holdup at a gas bar or convenience store. The thing is, when the perpetrator is apprehended, there will also be a breach of probation attached to the charges. Is the justice system dealing with first, second or third time offenders like they should? In our system, we are not chucking them in the slammer and throwing away the key. We are penning them up for a few days or weeks, with no counseling or anything else that might cause them to think twice before committing the same crime that caused them to be jailed in the first place.

  • james
    October 23, 2010 - 10:39

    well pam i guess us tim horton type are just dumb and by the way what is the tim horton type anyone who believes crime is falling better get your head out off the sand

  • james
    October 23, 2010 - 10:37

    well pam i guess us tim horton type are just dumb and by the way what is the tim horton type anyone who believes crime is falling better get your head out off the sand

  • Sean
    October 23, 2010 - 08:09

    Right on Pam!