The Hill: Real cost of new crime laws

We knew that sooner or later, the chickens would be coming home to roost. It’s happening now. They’re going to be very expensive chickens.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his dauntless duo of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews have 24 crime bills in the hopper.

An idea of what this could cost us came out last week in the annual estimates of where the Harper government will be spending our money this coming year.

There’s bad news for those who believe it’s better to prevent crime before it happens than put people in jail afterwards.

Although the Harper government is boasting that it’s cutting back spending, expenditures on corrections are going up more than at any other government department.

The increase is $521.6 million. That’s 21.2 per cent more than last year even though the crime rate in Canada has been going down.

Don’t ask where your money is going. Prisons don’t come cheaply. We have to pay those prison guards.
Of that $521.6 million, the estimates show that Harper’s strict new sentencing laws will be taking up $458 million.

That includes Harper’s law that eliminated double credit for time spent in remand. Toews once said it would cost an extra $90 million. But he admitted he was only guessing. When in doubt, it’s always best to guess as you’re planning crime-and-punishment legislation.

So what if Toews was so far off in his estimate? He’s not paid to be a rocket scientist.
The opposition Liberals, as expected, are making a big stink out of the increased costs of putting more people in jail for longer periods of time.

According to them, the Harper government would do better to spend our money on preventive programs and being nice to kids before they commit crimes.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland doesn’t like the extra spending on punishment. “This is just the beginning,” he says.  

Wait until the other 23 crime bills start coming in. It’s going to have “implications.”
That’s putting it mildly, even for a Liberal.

“In the end, we’re going to be crushed by the enormity of the cost of all this,” says Holland.
That’s only if judges do Harper’s bidding.

But what if they choose to acquit people rather than jail them? What if Crown prosecutors lessen the charges to compensate for Harper’s harsher crime laws?

To date, however, there’s no indication they’ll stand up to Harper’s laws. They may well choose to apply them as they’re written.

If the judges do convict, they’ll have to find a place to put everybody until Harper’s prisons become a reality. They can’t house them in fast-food restaurants. Those are for emergency-room patients.

So they’ll likely continue stacking them like wood, two people to a cell, in the jails. Canada signed a United Nations convention obliging it to avoid putting prisoners in double bunks, but we know what Harper thinks of the United Nations and its agencies.

Putting people in double bunks saves a lot of money. And it’s a great learning experience for the younger fellows. What about rehabilitation? Are you kidding?

Since the Harper government took office more than five years ago, it has slashed prison rehabilitation programs by 47 per cent. What do pointy-headed social workers know about criminals anyway? If there’s anything you need to know, you can ask Julian Fantino.

MP Don Davies of the New Democrats believes the government is cutting both crime prevention and rehabilitation. “They’re hacking prevention, they’re hacking safe-community initiatives and just loading it all up in the post-crime approach.”

There’s no sense in treating them lightly, says Toews.
Police and jail guards say the real bump in the prison population will come with Harper’s new marijuana law. There’s no cost for that yet.

The bill would make getting caught with six marijuana plants in your mother’s basement enough to get you a trafficking charge.

Convicts will have to serve the minimum six-month sentence as there will be no more suspended sentences for drug pushers. It’s a great way for a kid to start off life with a record as a drug pusher.

The Liberals tried to change the wording to 20 plants so fewer kids would be charged with trafficking but they didn’t have the numbers in the House of Commons.

At a news conference on Feb. 9, Nicholson was plain enough: “If you sell drugs around a school, you’re not going to like this bill.”

There are many Canadians who smoke marijuana. How many of them have six plants or more in their basement or out in the cornfield?

In California, they passed harsher drugs laws as well as the famous three-strikes legislation. They filled up their jails and then took over high school gyms before running out of money. Finally, they found a solution. They let convicts out.

As for prevention, the federal estimates tabled last Tuesday show a $7.4-million decrease in funding for programs focusing on stopping youth gang activity and $13.1 million in cuts to efforts at helping Canadians build safer communities.

So that’s how the government will spend your crime-fighting
dollar this year.
Aren’t you glad the government is building safer communities for you?

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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