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Tories still working on cost of crime plan
OTTAWA—The Conservative tough-on-crime agenda will lead to "huge" savings for the public purse, even if the government is forced to build more jails, says the minister in charge of federal prison policy.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day refused yesterday to provide estimates of the cost of the Tory promises, saying that "a number of estimates have come in, but they're sort of all over the map. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
He said one area of "huge" savings would be in the investigation and prosecution costs of "serious criminals" who would be kept in jail and not on the streets "re-offending."
A cost analysis prepared by Correctional Services of Canada during the 2004 election campaign, and published by the Ottawa Citizen during the most recent election campaign estimated extra prison spending at between $5 billion and $11.5 billion over 10 years.
Asked if he rejected such numbers, Day replied: "I don't reject anything out of hand. I also don't reject the estimates that say there's going to be a reduction in crime because of these things.
"One thing it doesn't take into account is the deterring effect that serious sentences for serious crime will have, and the fact that it will also reduce costs of damages against citizens by serious criminals who are perpetrating serious crimes."
This week, Justice Minister Vic Toews acknowledged the Tories are prepared to build more jails to house the offenders caught by tough new sentencing and parole measures soon to come.
Day told reporters yesterday he believes there will be "minimal" need to increase prison capacity, but said "it's very difficult to predict."
On Wednesday, Day also said it is difficult to predict what the savings will be from the government's plan to scrap the long gun registry.
"The savings will be in the millions. Whether it will be in the low millions or the double-digit millions, we haven't assessed that yet. But there will be savings from what we're going to do."
The Liberals had capped spending on the gun registry at $25 million annually just before the 2004 election after years of criticism that the overall owner licensing and gun registration had ballooned to $1 billion from a predicted $2 million. But Day conceded it will be harder than the Tories expected to dismantle the registry because it will require a legislative vote in Parliament.
The Liberals and New Democrats predict the Tories will not win such a vote.
"Once you go the parliamentary route, of course they'll need a majority and at this point my read is they don't have that majority," said Liberal critic Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal).
Day said the Tories still intend to spend money to create "1,000 new positions for RCMP across the country."
The minister said he is confident most Canadians are prepared to have the federal government spend whatever it takes to ensure there are serious consequences for serious criminals.
Tories hint at more prisons
OTTAWA—The Conservative government says it is prepared to build more jails if necessary to contain all the offenders caught by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tougher-on-crime agenda.
The acknowledgement came from Justice Minister Vic Toews after a speech by Harper to the Canadian Professional Police Association yesterday in which the Prime Minister pledged more cops on the street, more prisoners serving their full sentences, and no more "house arrest" for serious offenders.
"This government will send a strong message to criminals. If you do a serious crime you're going to start doing serious time," said Harper.
Harper said his plans to bring in longer mandatory jail terms for drug, gun and gang-related crime, and to repeal the legal right to early release for prisoners who serve two-thirds of their sentences are among the government's first law-and-order legislative priorities.
His promises — including a pledge to kill the "faint hope" clause that allows prison lifers to make a bid for parole — prompted big applause and a standing ovation from the roomful of cops representing more than 50,000 police officers across the country.
"I thought we might find a receptive audience here," Harper smiled.
In a speech that followed Harper's, Toews said it will be an "important public safety issue to ensure we have effective correctional services."
He conceded the get-tough approach "might involve providing new facilities" across the country.
Toews did not elaborate on how many more jail beds might be required, or how much it would cost.
The last federal jail built was Fenbrook Institution, a medium-security prison north of Gravenhurst, Ont. It cost $62 million to build in 1998 and has the capacity to house 400 inmates.
A spokesperson for the federal department responsible for correctional policy, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said any analyses of the impact the Tories' promises would have are considered advice to the minister and not available to the public, as no legislative proposals have been tabled.
But a quick look at the numbers involved suggests the cost of all the measures — not to mention the Tories' vow to put 1,000 more RCMP constables in the field, and some 2,500 more officers on municipal and provincial forces through a new cost-shared program — will be in the millions.
It costs $87,000 a year per offender to house an inmate in a federal jail, versus $20,000 a year to supervise an offender released into the community.
There are 12,600 offenders now in federal prisons (where sentences of two years or more are served). Another 8,300 offenders are on some form of conditional release in the community — more than 2,800 on automatic or "statutory release" after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
University of Toronto criminologist Anthony Doob says in 2003-2004, the last year for which complete statistics are available, about 5,000 inmates exited federal prisons under "statutory release" provisions.
Doob suggests it would cost about $438 million to continue to house those inmates, not counting any new building costs. When they finally do get out after serving their full sentence, Doob says, there will be no form of controls on them or support to them.
"So they all will be in effect like Karla Homolka. Everybody got upset with Karla Homolka because at the end of 12 years she was released on the street with no conditions. We're going to create a policy that that's going to happen, for better or worse.
"That doesn't sound to me like good correctional policy or good justice policy."
Doob argues there's no evidence to show crime rates drop with increased imprisonment rates. Rather, he says, the two are independent of each other. In Britain, he says, when the Labour government decided to increase imprisonment rates, apparent crime rates continued to rise.
"The size of the prison population is a political decision. Countries make political decisions on how many people they want in prison," he said. "Crime is going to go its own way, independent of that."
Toews also suggested there will be fewer transfers of violent offenders to minimum security jails.
"I applaud the efforts that have been made to put an end to what has been referred to as `Club Fed,'" said Toews, using a moniker the police lobby and Tories in opposition favoured.
Harper made passing references to new federal money for programs for youth at risk, and Toews said his government will look at ways to tackle the "root causes of crime" through "effective social programs and sound economic policies."
But the larger message was the newly elected Conservatives will press ahead with their law-and-order mandate, despite anticipated opposition from the other parties in Parliament.
Already, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is calling the package "a dangerous and indigestible stew."
Toews also said he will study a police association proposal that all those convicted of indictable offences (which carry jail terms of two years or more) should be registered in the national DNA databank, not just sexual and dangerous offenders.
OTTAWA—Together they make up one of the five key priorities of the new Tory government, but the tough crime and security measures were boiled down to a handful of paragraphs in the Speech from the Throne.
Justice Minister Vic Toews delved beyond the generalities following the address, saying curbing gun violence will be his overriding priority in the coming weeks.
"Mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes are a very important issue, as is the elimination of conditional sentences or house arrest for violent crimes and repeat offenders. I think we can safely say there will be legislation in that respect," Toews said.
He said other priorities include raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.
Liberal justice critic Sue Barnes (London West) said the Tory throne speech was "skimpy" and that what little there was looked a lot like what the former Liberal government advocated.
The federal gun registry, a long-time Conservative bugaboo, wasn't mentioned despite repeated promises during the last election that a Tory government would scrap it.
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) said the federal justice department has several legal opinions that say it would be a complex and costly job to dismantle the program.
Any proposal to kill the registry would almost surely be defeated in the Commons, he added.Comartin also took issue with the assertion in the throne speech that violent crime is on the rise, pointing out that statistics show the opposite.
"I guess the theory is that if you keep repeating the same mantra you learn to believe it," he said.
Meanwhile, at a police conference in Calgary yesterday, former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper said he's appalled by the direction in which Canada seems to be heading.
Tory promises, such as introducing more mandatory minimum sentences, "represent a move toward the American model of criminal justice and I think that's a big mistake."Source: thestar.com