Jail Boss Hazy on Impact of Conservative Drug Law

Correctional Services Canada says it has no idea what mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes will do to the prison system.

But Commissioner Don Head told a Senate committee the government has agreed to cover off the costs of implementing the new bill.

Bill S-10 is the third time the Conservatives have tried to get a law in place that would see traffickers and producers sent immediately to prison, even those convicted of growing only six marijuana plants.

But Head told the Senate committee studying the bill there isn’t enough information to figure out whether the bill would have a deterrent effect or merely swell prison populations.

Part of the new bill will also impose mandatory minimums for those caught trying to sell drugs behind bars.

Head says catapulting dead birds filled with drugs over prison fences or using visitors as smugglers are two of the many ways people try to get contraband into jail.

– Article from CTV.

Prison Boss Sees $2b Bill in Future

by Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press

The head of Canada’s federal corrections system says he’ll need to spend about $2 billion to deal with the influx of prisoners coming from the Conservatives’ law-and-order agenda.

“The primary impact of the legislation will be a significant and sustained increase to the federal offender population over time,” said Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service Canada.

“This will be particularly evident in the short to medium-term.”

Head said the crime legislation will mean an extra 4,478 people in federal prisons over the next three years, on top of growth in prison population that would normally be expected.

He’ll have to hire thousands more staff, as well as renovate and expand existing prisons to handle the growing inmate population.

Plus, he says he’ll have to spend on programs that help prisoners cope, since the surge will require far more double-bunking — a practice that experts say often incites violence and discontent.

Head’s $2-billion estimate is lower than costs projected by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but far higher than costs initially projected by federal ministers.

Head warned that federal prisons are increasingly becoming homes for the mentally ill, and his personnel are struggling to handle the new dynamic.

“Unfortunately we have become the default mental-health system in the country,” he said.

NDP critic Don Davies noted that Head’s $2-billion estimate was only the extra jail costs for two pieces of federal legislation, while many other pieces still have to be analyzed.

Davies said he wouldn’t be surprised to see costs rise much higher.

“It’s going to cost billions of dollars to implement just a small part of the government’s crime agenda,” he said.

– Article from The Chronicle Herald.

Lock-’em-up agenda will come with a pretty hefty price tag

by Marilla Stephenson, The Chronicle Herald

The federal crime-fighting agenda will soon bring the volatile practice of double-bunking to more Canadian prisons.

The reason? Increased overcrowding while officials scramble to build new prisons or expand existing ones.

This will result in additional capital costs for construction and expansion, and higher operating costs to pay for more inmate programs.

Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, told The Canadian Press this week he expects $2 billion in additional costs over the next three years due to the federal Conservatives’ law and order initiatives.

The prison boss was speaking about the impact on federal institutions. It’s still uncertain how much the changes will cost the provinces, which house more prisoners than the federal system.

Earlier this month, Ontario served notice that it wants the federal government to share in the cost of expanding provincial jails. Expect other provinces to follow suit.

Federal Justice Minister Vic Toews, however, has said the provinces will have to find their share to pay for necessary new provincial facilities. The minister reminded the provinces that they called for tougher laws to crack down on crime, and now they have them.

The federal system, meanwhile, will have to hire extra staff and provide more programs for inmates.

In the next three years, it’s estimated there will be 4,478 more inmates in the federal system, Head says. And that’s on top of any typical growth the system might experience.

Head told CP that extra programming will be needed to help prisoners deal with additional stresses, including those brought on by double-bunking — the practice of having two inmates in a cell built for one.

This is hardly news in Nova Scotia, where the province’s largest jail has boiled over several times in recent years. Guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth have blamed the problems on increased tensions brought on by overcrowding and double-bunking.

Figures related to how much it will cost to expand the federal prison system are in dispute.

The parliamentary budget officer has pegged the cost at a minimum of $11 billion over the next five years. Kevin Page said in August that while federal costs will top $5 billion, the extra financial burden for the provinces will be $6 billion to $10 billion over the five years.

The new Truth in Sentencing Act passed in Ottawa will have a bigger impact on the provinces, Page said. That’s because there are about 23,000 inmates in provincial jails at any given time, compared with 13,000 in federal prisons.

The federal inmate population is expected to pass 17,000 with the elimination of the time-served option whereby a judge gives credit for time served before trial.

Toews has disputed Page’s figures, indicating that federal costs would be only about $2 billion, but it’s worth noting that Head’s estimate of the same figure is for three years, rather than the five indicated in Page’s report.

Head also brought attention to the increasing need for mental health services in prisons.

“Unfortunately, we have become the default mental health system in the country,” he said.

The law and order issue is clearly moving up the public policy ladder. In a week when a base commander was uncloaked as a closet killer, there are reasons for Canadians to think twice about public safety.

But the need to placate those fears with increasingly stiff incarceration policies will come with a steep price in terms of how tax dollars are spent.

It’s worth asking whether the cost of keeping more inmates behind bars on extended sentences is an investment that pays off with a safer society in the long run, or whether we’re simply reinforcing a revolving-door justice system.

– Article from The Chronicle Herald.