Conditional sentence changes to cost millions: Page
Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:24PM EST
A provision in the federal government's omnibus crime bill that restricts conditional sentences will cost the provinces and territories more than $100 million a year, according to a new report from the Parliamentary budget officer.
The change makes conditional sentences available only to non-violent offenders sentenced to less than two years in jail. These sentences are often served under community supervision. This means that under the new provisions, more offenders will end up incarcerated.
According to Kevin Page's report, the cost to the provinces and territories of ending conditional sentences for most offenders would have hit $137 million based on 2008-09 data. This includes the cost of a trial for offenders who would choose to take their chances in court when they previously would have pled guilty and faced guaranteed jail time.
Page said Tuesday that Statistics Canada data shows that the daily cost of incarceration is $160, compared to community supervision at $10.
In addition, offenders will spend less time under supervision, Page said, when their sentences are shortened with credit for time served and good behaviour.
"This will have a cost," Page told CTV's Power Play. "We will have fewer people supervised for a shorter period of time and we're going to have a significant increase in the average cost. And we should be getting a study like this on every aspect of Bill C-10 from the government."
The 97-page report says that under the new conditional sentence measures in Bill C-10, also known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, about 3,800 more offenders will end up in jail, and the cost to taxpayers per offender will jump to $41,000 from the current $2,600.
The additional cost to the provinces and territories goes above the five-year, $78.5 million price tag the Harper government previously gave the entire bill.
The federal government has never estimated the costs of the bill to the provinces and territories.
NDP MP Jack Harris said Tuesday the findings refute the government's claim that the costs of the bill would be minimal.
"It shows that this bill is really irresponsible in many ways, but is clearly ideologically driven and driven for the purposes of PR because we're being tough on crime," Harris told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"Well they think they're being tough on crime but the actual effect will be less criminals will be punished and for a smaller period of time at 16 times the cost. This is clearly wrong and it doesn't make any sense."
Page's estimates do not include such costs as building new prisons.
In late January, provincial justice ministers were rebuffed by their federal counterpart when they asked for help to offset the costs of implementing the bill.
At a justice ministers' meeting in Charlottetown, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said, "I have no cheque for $1 billion for Ontario." The province had said that increased court and policing costs would total that sum and had asked Ottawa for help.
Page told Power Play that his report was compiled with information from the provinces and territories and agencies such as Statistics Canada, but without data from Public Safety Canada.
Page said his office was established to be "the second data point" when costing government programs. But in this case "we are the only data point," he said, because there is no evidence to suggest the federal government has costed the legislation for the provinces and territories.
"The federal government has never said anything to the provinces about what they thought the costs would be," Page said. "So that's a big transparency issue."
With files from The Canadian Press