BASICS Issue #22 (Sep/Oct 2010)
by Mike Brito
The Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), Don Head, recently stated that there will be “major construction initiatives” in the Canadian prison system.
Although the Harper cabinet has refused to publicize the cost of their plans to imprison more people, government spending estimates confirm that capital costs for penitentiaries are scheduled to increase by 43% next year.
Estimates released earlier this year show that the prison system’s capital expenditures would increase from $230.8 million for 2009-10 to $329.4 million in 2010-11. It is not clear whether the money will be used to build new prisons or renovate the old.
Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, asserted that the money would be spent only on “updating and improving” existing facilities. Research conducted at Carleton University has confirmed that there is also a “building spree” at the provincial level, with plans to spend more than $2.8 billion on new facilities and expanding older institutions.
The CSC commissioner announced changes to the prison system, citing “several pieces of legislation that will result in a growth of our inmate population.” He referred to one bill that recently became law, which put an end to a judicial practice of allowing “two-for-one” credit on sentences for every day spent in pre-trial custody, or “dead time.”
The federal government has also proposed and passed legislation to impose mandatory minimums on a range of crimes, including drug possession, and have stated their intention to make it harder for prisoners to get parole.
During a time of falling crime rates and government cutbacks, the Harper Conservatives are committed to building prisons, despite the fact that there is no evidence that longer sentences decrease crime.
The Executive Director of The John Howard Society, Craig Jones, says that this construction “is basically pouring money down a rat hole” and predicted that the prison service will become “the largest building contractor in Canada.”