That’s what the economy needs to give it a shot in the arm. Spending like the proverbial drunken sailor on more jails, massive globalist summits, new police hardware and new squadrons of high-tech fighter jets. What kind of new economy is it we’re building, exactly? A Globe and Mail editorial reads:
“If the government didn’t know what the new law would cost, its managerial incompetence is inexcusable. If, as is more likely, it knew but didn’t say, its stealth is unjustifiable. Why would Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been promoting government-wide restraint in the name of deficit control, allow jail budgets to go wild? Why would the government not tell the truth about the Truth in Sentencing Act?”
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Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
June 22, 2010
OTTAWA – A new prison-sentencing law will cost the federal government an extra $5-billion over five years and the provincial governments even more, Canada’s spending watchdog estimated Tuesday in a report that predicts 13 new prisons will be needed to incarcerate 4,000 new offenders.
Kevin Page cautioned that his cost analysis is not an exact science, but rather a “high-level estimation” because he says he was stonewalled by the government in his efforts to secure the needed data.
“I knew incarceration was expensive, but when we actually did the calculation . . . you get big numbers in a hurry,” said Mr. Page, the parliamentary budget officer.
“It is a lot of money in a period of time when we’re generating deficits.”
Mr. Page, at the request of the Opposition Liberals, analyzed the cost of one piece of crime-and-punishment legislation, which came into force in February.
The new Truth in Sentencing Act ends a practice of judges handing offenders time credits, on a two-for-one basis, to compensate for time spent in pre-sentence remand.
The analysis estimates additional federal costs of $1-billion annually over five years, with two-thirds going toward extra operating and maintenance costs to house new prisoners and the remaining one-third being used for 13 new penitentiaries that would be needed to handle the prisoner influx.
The provincial governments, which are responsible for jailing inmates serving sentences of less than two years, would be on the hook for even more money, since they will be absorbing about 56% of the total new costs, Mr. Page estimated.
The opposition parties urged the government to “come clean” on the entire cost of its expansive law-and-order agenda, which critics said will drain federal coffers of-billions of dollars that could be spent on other programs or deficit reduction.
“When you think about all the other bills, this could crush Canada’s budget, it could destroy and cannibalize the other departments,” said Mark Holland, Liberal public safety critic.
“How are we going to afford our health care, how are we going to afford education, how are we going to afford the military?”
He acknowledged that the Liberals voted to pass the bill last year, but he asserted they were misled because the Harper Conservatives lowballed the cost.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews disputed Mr. Page’s figures, saying that the Correctional Service of Canada has estimated the federal tab at $2-billion over five years “and I’ve seen nothing that would change my mind in that respect.”
Mr. Toews, whose government created the parliamentary budget office to keep an objective eye on spending, suggested that Page fabricated his numbers.
“I don’t know where he’s getting his information from,” Mr. Toews told reporters. “If you indicated he is not getting any information from Correctional Services Canada, he must be making this up, correct?”
Until recently, the government refused to divulge estimates for any law-and-order initiatives, citing cabinet confidence.
Mr. Toews reiterated Tuesday there is no immediate plan to build more prisons and that the government will rely on more double-bunking of prisoners. He added, however, that existing facilities will be expanded and renovated as needed.
“What I can indicate is there will be additional units built in existing facilities and we will do that, but there is no need for additional new prisons at this time,” Mr. Toews told reporters.
Mr. Page’s report notes that federal penitentiaries collectively have 15,000 cells, and currently house about 13,000 inmates. His estimate of new prison costs is based on expansion of current penitentiaries or construction on land that is already government owned.
There is no estimate on the number of extra provincial inmates caught by the new law or provincial facilities that would be needed.
Mr. Toews said the provinces will see a financial benefit from the act because some of the inmates who would have been jailed will now receive longer sentences and be sent to federal prisons, which incarcerates offenders serving terms of at least two years.
He also noted that the federal government’s bid to eliminate the two-for-one credit followed lobbying from the provinces, which supported the bill.
The report acknowledges a spillover of offenders from provincial jails to federal prisons, but it says there will also be an influx of offenders in the provincial system who would have been released following remand by judges who calculated they had already served enough time.
Mr. Page estimates that average sentences will rise from to two years from the current 1.5.
His analysis could reignite a long-standing dispute with provincial governments, which for almost four years have been lobbying for additional federal funding to help pay for Conservative government measures to put more offenders in prisons and jails and to keep them there longer.
“Ontario will continue to do its part, but fully expects measures initiated by the federal government will be accompanied with the resources needed for implementations,” said Laura Blondeau, a spokeswoman for Rick Bartolucci, Ontario minister of correctional services.
Mr. Page’s analysis pegs the total costs of corrections, federally and provincially, at $9.5-billion by 2015-16, up from the current overall spending of $4.4-billion.
“This comprehensive report is a clear indictment of the government’s approach on crime policy,” said Don Davies, NDP public safety critic.
“Spending on crime prevention is going down. The mental-health crisis in our prisons remains untreated. But the government can find $5-billion for prisons.”
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