Being tough on crime is tough on our wallets

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

The Harper government considers its “tough on crime” legislation to be a key ingredient in          providing Canadians with a sense of security and well-being. However, this policy decision, like many others of our federal       government, is based more on gut reaction and public appeal rather than an investigation and rational analysis of the real             situation. A number of developments in Canada and internationally point to some major flaws in the “tough on crime“ stance.
First, there is the report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer presented last year revealing some interesting numbers on criminal incarceration and costs. Per capita expenditures on criminal justice have increased steadily – 23% since 2002. During the same period, Canada’s crime rate has declined by the same 23%. Over the ten-year period, crime has gone down but costs have gone up.  The crime rate decrease is a direct result of Canada’s aging population and has no relationship to length and type of punishment in the criminal system. However, the costs are a direct result of          the government’s policy. Longer prison terms result in higher costs per            prisoner. Denying bail to persons awaiting trial also results in more prison time and costs.
One consequence has been considerable overcrowding in our prisons. From this, more tension between prisoners and prison guards follows. Howard Sapers, the Federal Prison Ombuds-man, has warned the       government this will result in increased violence in prisons and increased costs for correctional staff. Guards are now required to use more forceful means such as pepper spray and fire arms to maintain order in the prisons.
Perhaps no greater contrast to the Harper government’s policy can be found than in Sweden’s system. Sweden’s crime rate is lower than Canada’s, but its rate of decline is also less than Canada’s. Yet, Sweden’s prison population has dropped so dramatically that the country plans to close four of its prisons. The main reason is the result of a number of reforms the country has made over the last ten years. First, Sweden was the first country in Europe to introduce the electronic tagging of convicted       criminals and continues to strive to minimize short-term prison sentences wherever possible by using community-based measures that have proven to   be more effective at reducing reoffending. Second, inmates with longer detentions receive training       and support to help reduce repeat offenders. And there are serious and extensive supports for rehabilitation when        prisoners are released back into civilian life.
The comparison of Sweden’s humane, thoughtful approach to punishment of criminals and that of  our federal government is striking.   The Harper government’s “tough on crime” does not reduce the crime rate, but is costly and tough on the tax payer.