The Tories want to have their cake and imprison it, too

Posted on in Governance Debates

TheGlobeandMail.com – Globe Debate/Columnists
May. 01 2015.   Tabatha Southey

Canadians, we learned this week, have been spending an additional $91-million a year in order to be less protected from crime. This information was contained in a report released on Tuesday by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson – a document that might as well have been called “As Predicted. ”Conservatives responded by cheerfully noting that Correctional Services Canada was accepting all the report’s recommendations – while simultaneously saying their policy was right all along. They want to have their cake and eat it, and possibly imprison it, too.

If this trend continues, next up from the Conservative government might well be a commitment to put thumbtacks pointy side up on all Canada’s chairs. “Your Conservative government: Hard on soft things,” they will say, or something – causing almost everyone in Canada to cry out “Nooo!” or at least sigh, “Why, exactly?” – a phrase that may soon replace our national anthem.

Experts in skin abrasions will weigh in. Those entrusted to deal with Canada’s seating arrangements will urge against the pointy-things plan. All so that four years from now we can hear the same politicians we heard from this week say, “We accept your recommendations and, in hindsight, spending $91-million a year on the thumbtacks we placed on the chairs of Canadians was not a good use of resources. But we would like points – the other kind, thanks – for the fact that we did say we were going to put thumbtacks on lots of chairs and we followed through on our plan, and for that we deserve respect.”

It turns out, in breaking grade-school-math news, that keeping people in jail for more time costs more money. The Conservative government has, as it promised to do (as it kept reminding us this week), slowed the rate of release for prisoners and this has contributed to a 6-per-cent increase in prison populations over the past four years.

Crime rates in Canada are dropping, a fact Conservatives love to mention. In fact crime rates have been dropping since 1991 – 15 years before the Conservatives came to power, a fact they mention less often. By which I mean, never.

Yet, despite the fact that there’s been a steady decline in crime, we’re increasing the size of our prison population. To believe there’s any correlation between lower crime rates and the Conservative’s policy of increased incarceration, you’d have to believe that criminals were so concerned about our government’s tough-on-crime agenda that they banded together, built a time machine, travelled to the early nineties and put stuff back – pausing only to teach their younger selves the error of their ways.

We’re dealing with reformed time bandits in this country, you’d have to decide, and then, after these crafty angels had retroactively made Canada safer, they rallied and did the same thing in the United States – where crime rates are also declining, despite our government’s clearly limited reach in that country.

How’s that pipeline coming anyway, guys?

“Truth in sentencing” is what the Conservatives call their policy of making it more difficult for inmates to be paroled. Anyone sentenced to 10 years should serve 10 years, we’re told. This however, in our government’s tradition, ignores several facts: First of all, parole is part of a sentence; it’s part of those 10 or so years. It’s just a different part – one that’s served in the community in an effort to reintegrate the prisoner back into the larger world.

If they mess up, they go back inside. This provides a heaping pile of incentive for offenders to embark on a better life, one that often proves sustainable. Statistics show that gradual release from, say, a maximum-, to medium-, to minimum-security facility, to supervised release, helps reduce the chance a person will reoffend.

This means that forcing prisoners to serve their entire sentence in prison increases the chances that everyone else becomes a victim of crime. A fact we knew. A documented thing, of which the Conservatives were informed as they set about their plan, willy-nilly – a plan that’s ensured that 11 per cent of prisoners are being directly released from maximum-security institutions to our doorsteps. A further 64 per cent are joining us directly from medium-security prisons – all without anyone to look over their shoulders or to assist them in what is often a fraught transition.

Had low-risk offenders in minimum-security institutions been properly prepared for, and released when they first became eligible for parole, $26-million a year could have been saved, according to reports – and yet the self-proclaimed fiscally-responsible Conservatives can’t stop congratulating themselves.

“I am pleased that the Auditor-General found that our ‘truth in sentencing’ measures have worked because more prisoners are staying behind bars for a greater portion of their sentence,” a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in an e-mailed statement.

On CBC’s Power and Politics, Roxanne James, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, thanked the auditor-general for the report, saying she was “pleased that the auditor-general has acknowledged that those that have committed serious crimes … are spending more time behind bars.”

This is a bit like being stopped for speeding and saying, “I’m pleased you noticed I was going 120 kilometres in a 60 zone. I was going pretty fast, wasn’t I? I told my buddies I would.”

What both of these people are saying is, “We said we’d do an ill-advised thing and we did it!”

“I know everyone said it wouldn’t work and it hasn’t worked but we’re tough on crime and good with money!” our government – intent on branding itself with all the subtlety of a pro wrestler – yells. “That’s right, it’s our thing, and if we have to spend a lot of money and increase the amount of crime to prove that we’re committed to protecting Canadians from crime while saving them money, hell, we’ll do it!”

Some people collect Beanie Babies to have an identity. Our government imprisons people for counterproductive periods of time at great expense. Who are you to judge? Everyone has a hobby, or an affectation.

Try to think of this policy, like several other Conservative Party polices, as the governmental equivalent of a mistranslated Japanese tattoo – one they will insist on rolling up sleeves at parties to show to everyone.

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