Be realistic about what works

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A get-tough-on-crime agenda sounds good, since people tend to remember cases in which leniency saw some creep get back on the street.

But a government has to be realistic when resolving to tighten up the judicial system.

Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, says the federal Conservatives aren’t very convincing as they continue vowing to make prison sentences stiffer. He makes reference to the billions of dollars that would be required to build or expand facilities.

The Conservative government acknowledges that one piece of legislation, Bill C-25, the Truth in Sentencing Act, will cost $2 billion.

But the Parliamentary Budget Officer is reported by The Canadian Press to be planning release of a report in coming weeks that will price that legislation at between $7 billion and $10 billion for provincial and federal governments over the next five years. The provinces are expected to shoulder most of the cost.

And that’s the pricetag on just one piece of the federal government’s law and order agenda.

Grilled on the expected increase in costs, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said one solution will be more double-bunking of inmates.

Now, that sounds like trouble just waiting to happen. Surely Toews can’t look someone straight in the eye and suggest that.

In fact, Canada has signed a United Nations agreement that specifically prohibits two inmates to a cell. According to Sapers, 1,300 federal inmates are already double-bunking in cells built for single occupancy.

It would be no bleeding-heart observation to say that the numbers here really haven’t been crunched.

People definitely want to see repeat offenders, particularly those bent on more violent crimes, behind bars. But an across-the-board approach of getting tougher on sentencing is raising questions about both justice and cost. Legislators need to put more thought into what will really work.

Organizations: Correctional Investigator, Conservatives, Canadian Press United Nations

Geographic location: Canada

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