Editorial: Two-timing

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Apparently it’s time to promote “truth in sentencing.”  At least that’s according to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson who made the comment as he moved to end the traditional granting of enhanced credit by judges for pretrial custody.

“I believe there is widespread support in this country to address this issue,” Nicholson told reporters. Really? Well, not from this desk.

Nicholson tabled the bill to curb the two-for-one credit practice on March 27 and it is now in first reading.
Routinely judges mete out enhanced credit for so-called “dead time” in sentencing. The idea is it compensates inmates who are in custody awaiting trial in jam-packed provincial facilities with no programming.

And it makes up for the fact that the time one sits in jail - presumed innocent - awaiting trial doesn’t count when it comes to parole. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that dead time is real time.

And here’s the thing: it’s a discretionary power to hand it out.
One of the stated reasons behind this push to end the scheme is it would speed up the system because inmates are clogging the wheels of justice by dragging out their pretrial custody in order to reduce their overall sentences.

Okay, show us evidence this is really happening and we may jump on the bandwagon, but so far we haven’t seen it.

Sure, there’s probably some rube out there who has tried to manipulate the system to extend his pretrial custody; choosing for example to malinger in the medieval Don Jail accumulating dead time whilst getting seaweed wraps and daily massages.

But there’s no proof that droves of jail-loving inmates are the reason behind our gummed up justice system.
Which brings us back to that little word “discretionary” again.

Aren’t the sentencing judges in the best position to determine whether that’s happening, and if it is, hand out straight time rather than enhanced credit?

Why throw a blanket accusation and by extension further punishment across all inmates if the remedy is already in place? Don’t we trust our judges to know when they’re having the wool pulled over their eyes?

“In fact in Ontario, and elsewhere in the country, judges do not give credit for pretrial custody if they think somebody has deliberately delayed their sentencing to get that credit,” Criminal Lawyers’ Association president Frank Addario told CBC news.

Meanwhile, doesn’t anyone else have a problem with a “truth in sentencing” that could actually promote accused people pleading guilty for a lesser sentence to avoid rotting in jail longer while awaiting trial?

The real reason pretrial custody is so long, and thus deserving of enhanced credit, is because those wheels of justice are moving at a snail’s pace, fuelled by a variety of factors other than clever inmates.

Some suggest that the two-for-one practice is also a means for judges to send a message that the system is too slow, so by all means let’s remove that ability from the very people who are in the best position to know the “truth.”

Meanwhile, let’s not forget, not everyone lanquishing in pretrial custody is guilty.
This is an easy “tough on crime” sell to a public that won’t dig below the rhetoric and it will probably pass. But it won’t get those wheels moving. Is playing politics the real truth in sentencing here?
- Gretchen Drummie

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