In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Concerns Over New Law Restricting Conditional Sentencing

Changes could pose problems
June 02, 2007
The Leader-Post (Regina)

Amendments to the Criminal Code limiting the use of conditional sentences or "house arrest" for serious crimes could result in a spike in prison populations, according to the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan.

"I think we are likely to see an increase in incarceration rates provincially. That is where it is going to be felt in Saskatchewan and across the country," said John Howard Society provincial executive director Jim Warner.

On Thursday, Royal Assent was given to Bill C-9 amending a section of the Criminal Code so as to eliminate the availability of conditional sentences for indictable offences punishable by 10 years or more that qualify as either serious personal injury or sexual assault, terrorism or criminal organization offences.

In 1996, conditional sentences were introduced as a sentencing option enabling an offender to serve a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years in the community under house arrest, providing the judge found the community sentence would not endanger public safety.

"Canada's new government is committed to ensuring Canadians are safe in their communities, which is why we introduced this legislation to ensure that people who commit serious, violent crimes serve their time behind bars, not at home,'' federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said, when announcing the restrictions under the Criminal Code.

The new provision will come into force in six months allowing the provinces and territories time to prepare for the changes and the impact it will have on correctional and court services.

"There is a certain element of plea bargaining that does go on (between the Crown and defence) in these things and if you take that element away (where someone pleads guilty in exchange for a conditional sentence served in the community) then you are going to be taxing the system as far as offenders opting to take their changes by going to trial," Warner said.

"This amendment also takes away the discretion of the judge around such matters in looking at individual cases on an individual level as opposed to just broad-brushing certain offences or crimes not being eligible anymore."

Warner is predicting the incarceration rate will go up, considerably putting pressure on an already overcrowded correctional facilities and their budgets as the institutions try to cope with additional mouths to feed and inmates to shelter.

"I read somewhere that it is estimated there will be a 20-per-cent increase in provincial incarcerations as a result of this bill alone," Warner said, adding it is going to have a severe impact on the remand and general inmate population in the correctional system and create a bottleneck in the court system as inmates opt to go to trial.

"The concern at John Howard is that more money will go into the administration and management of the offence as opposed to case management, crime prevention and the treatment and rehabilitation of the inmate."


More on Tory Law and Order Agenda on
Tory Bill Increasing Mandatory Minimums for Gun Laws Facing Critics In Justice Committee
Three Strikes Bill
Mandatory Minimums and Gun Crimes, Banning Conditional Sentencing
Justice Committee Guts Tory Bill Banning Conditional Sentencing

Other Resources on Bill C-9:
Summary of Bill C-9 (pdf)
Canadian Criminal Justice Association Position on Bill C-9
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network on Bill C-9
Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies Position on C-9 (pdf)
Canadian Bar Association (CBA) on Bill C-9 (pdf)
John Howard Society of Canada on Bill C-9 (pdf)