Conservative Sentencing Act to Cost Canadians Billions

New legislation limiting the credit given to prisoners for time served in custody before and during their trials will cost taxpayers $1 billion to implement and billions more to maintain, the parliamentary budget officer said Tuesday.

The construction of new correctional facilities alone will cost about $1.8 billion over five years, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said in a report quantifying the implications of the Truth in Sentencing Act.

A further $618 million will be needed annually for capital appropriations and operations and maintenance costs.

“I knew incarceration was expensive,” Page told reporters Tuesday morning. “When we do the simple math in terms of longer stays, which means higher head counts and we know how expensive … incarceration is, you get to big numbers in a hurry.”

Page and his team used figures from 2007-2008 to derive their rough estimates because the federal government was unwilling to provide specific data, the report said.

“Undertaking the type of costing exercise without rigorous bottom-up data from the department [and]absent any discussion with [Correctional Service Canada] poses significant risks,” authors Ashutosh Rajekar and Ramnarayanan Mathilakath wrote.

As a result, their report, The Funding Requirement and Impact of the Truth in Sentencing Act on the Correctional System in Canada, relied on historical trends, intuition and probability, the authors said. The report “is limited to a high-level estimation” of the costs, Rajekar and Mathilakath said.

That estimation, however, suggests the costs of implementing and maintaining the new sentencing rules will be far greater than the $2 billion over five years the Conservatives cited on April 28.

Public Safety Minister Toews disagrees

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews quickly dismissed Page’s report, saying he didn’t “know where [Page] is getting his information from.”

“If you indicate that he wasn’t getting any information from Correctional Service Canada, he must be making this up,” Toews said.

The act, which went into effect on Feb. 23, limits the credit judges can give prisoners for time served before sentencing.

Such limits have three major consequences, Page’s report concluded:

Inmates will spend more time in custody.
Convicts whose credit might have kept them in provincial facilities will have to be transferred to federal prisons.
Those convicted of lighter sentences who might have been directly released into community supervision will instead be sent to correctional facilities.
The act is expected to increase the number of inmates from 8,618 in fiscal year 2007-08 to 17,058, including 9,021 in community supervision, the report said.

Would need more prisons, report says

But Canada lacks sufficient space for so many inmates, requiring construction of 13 new federal and provincial facilities at a cost of $1.8 billion, or $363 million per year for five years, the report said.

The additional facilities would include:

Two low-security facilities with 250 cells each.
Six medium-security facilities with 600 cells each.
Four high-security facilities with 400 cells each.
One multi-level security facility with 400 cells.
The new facilities would increase the annual cost of caring for inmates — including operation and maintenance expenses as well as capital appropriations — by about $618 million a year, from the current $2.2 billion to roughly $2.8 billion, the report said.

The report was unable to project the financial impacts of the Truth in Sentencing Act for the provinces and territories because of a lack of current data.

However, using a simulation, it projected that annual costs of correctional services would more than double by 2015-16, from $4.4 billion to $9.5 billion, and responsibility for funding the majority of this would shift from the federal government to the provinces and territories.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland criticized the Conservatives for “a lack of co-operation and disclosure.”

“The costs cannot be dumped on taxpayers and the provinces,” Holland said. “The Conservatives must sit down with the provinces and territories to address their very legitimate concerns about how these initiatives are going to be funded.”

– Article from CBC News.