Prison prices

Staff ~ The Telegram
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As part of the great cautionary tale on what new federal "get tough on crime" legislation may mean to taxpayers in this country, you probably need look no further than Tuesday's provincial government rollout of its new "prisoner transport vehicle."

For years, the province has been using converted passenger vans - complete with wire mesh covering the windows - to transport prisoners to court and other places. Now, the province has put in place a converted heavy truck with individual cells, a move that will allow prisoners to be moved more securely, and will allow corrections officers to mix prisoners of different sexes and security levels. The individual cells also have video monitoring.

As part of the great cautionary tale on what new federal "get tough on crime" legislation may mean to taxpayers in this country, you probably need look no further than Tuesday's provincial government rollout of its new "prisoner transport vehicle."

For years, the province has been using converted passenger vans - complete with wire mesh covering the windows - to transport prisoners to court and other places. Now, the province has put in place a converted heavy truck with individual cells, a move that will allow prisoners to be moved more securely, and will allow corrections officers to mix prisoners of different sexes and security levels. The individual cells also have video monitoring.

But the most interesting part of the new purchase?

The price.

In all, it cost something close to $134,000 to build just one vehicle to safely get prisoners to court from the penitentiary.

This is not necessarily a criticism of that pricetag.

To put it bluntly, have you priced a fire truck lately? You'd be surprised at the tab.

Wednesday's paper had a story about Sheshatshiu's new pumper, which carries a pricetag of $250,000. It's the same for snowclearing equipment with brine systems; it's the same for new interprovincial ferries.

Purpose-built equipment is expensive, and as needs expand - everything from video record keeping in corrections vehicles on up - costs are certain to increase as well.

Building a prison now, for example, will not be anywhere near the costs of building a prison even 10 years ago.

"State of the art" is the key here.

On June 22, the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, came out with his calculations on what new sentencing legislation will cost to implement.

His numbers?

An additional $5.1 billion by 2016 - and that's a cumulative number. What cost $4.4 billion in 2009-2010, Page says, will cost $9.5 billion by 2016. New facility construction costs, according to Page, will total $1.8 billion, while construction costs to individual provinces will be even higher.

All for the sake of an approach to criminal justice that simply hasn't been shown to work. What the legislation will do, among other things, is remove the ability of judges to give prisoners double credit for the days they spend in remand before being convicted. The change will add an average of 159 extra days in custody, per prisoner.

Interestingly enough, that means offenders spend an average of 80 days waiting to go before a judge. Perhaps it might have been a better investment to hire more judges and speed up the court process.

The federal government has maintained that the real costs will be far, far lower - but look at the price of just one truck, and it's hard to imagine the federal government will be able to cap its costs anywhere near the numbers it has promised.

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Recent comments

  • Jay
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    After reading the first two comments I think money would be better spent on teaching basic grammar and spelling.

  • Chris
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    JEFF i think we needs va new jail befor we needs this pen vechile. And yes i fully agree with you the Justice System do need to put some REAL STAFF DOWN THERE. Sure the staff that works down there be's in the news just as much as the guys in there sure. Mr. Collins i think it's time for you to have a real close look at the Pen!! Because not half of the stuff is coming out.

  • Mark
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    '...it's hard to imagine the federal government will be able to cap its costs...' They won't have to, given that the primary responsibility for such costs lies with the ten provincial governments anyway.

  • B.G.
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I believe it was O. Henry who used to say that some people on a cold winter night would commit a crime just to then be housed free over the winter as guests of the state. One Calgarian recently pointed out that seniors would get a lot better food, medical care and mental stimulation if jailed rather than placed in costly nursing homes. It is ironic how we fund our prisons versus how we fund those trying to survive out here honestly.

  • Nola
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    We need equity between prisoners and other members of society for whom government bears responsible. For example: let prisoners cover their living expenses to the best of their ability: if they get OAP or have income from other sources or pensions, let it pay for their food, accommodation, guards, etc. Let the food allowance per prisoner be equal to that of residents of Senior Citizens' accommodation. Let them have gym equipment equal to the local high schools. Let them work to earn a living to subsidize their cost to the taxpayer. Let their higher education come in the form of student loans that are repaid when released. Why do we treat prisoners so much better than we treat vulnerable members of our communites?

  • jeff
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Yes it's ok that our Justice System is spending some money on our Prison System, like really it's needed. Now if we had some REAL staff to go along with this vechile it would be great.