Friday, March 4, 2011

What Canadians Could Buy ... Instead of More Prisons

For reasons that defy logic and fiscal common sense, Canada seems hell-bent on imitating the U.S.'s tough-on-crime sentencing laws.

Why? Because Canadians are apparently disgruntled with their justice system and want tougher sentences. So, chalk this up to another classic example of lawmakers trying to win votes and popularity -- no matter how fiscally disastrous the policy ends up being.

The Globe and Mail's editorial board offers some fascinating poll results and this editorial to explain how Canadians want tough justice -- but may not be willing to pay for it:

Canadians don’t trust the courts to get it right on crime. Many would like a tougher approach. But they also don’t see crime or justice as a spending priority. Perhaps this explains the Conservative government’s silence on the costs of their law-and-order agenda.
Since 1994, the Focus Canada poll done by Environics has measured Canadian attitudes toward government spending. In 2010, justice was seen as the second last of 21 priorities, a sharp drop from 15th in 2008. Only 24 per cent said more money should be spent on the justice system. That was the lowest figure recorded since 1994, when just 20 per cent wanted more spent. Getting tough is one thing, paying for it another. ...
The federal corrections budget alone is set to rise by $861-million, or 36 per cent, by 2012-13 over 2009-10. The provincial costs will probably rise by at least that much, because of federal sentencing changes.
And crime isn't even rising in Canada. Sigh. We see this all the time in the U.S. -- let's whip up some fear, hike up some sentences, win votes for being "tough on crime," and then foot the bill to the taxpayers. Never mind if they aren't actually safer, or if they're actually getting safer without those tough laws. Taxpayers in the U.S. have been dumb enough to fall for this and pay for it, to boot. For their own sakes, I hope Canadians are smarter.

So does former prosecutor and (Republican) Congressman Asa Hutchinson, who calls mandatory minimums a mistake and tells the Canadians not to adopt them in this article.

This editorial explains what Canadians could buy with the money they'll spend on corrections if they adopt mandatory minimums. Attention U.S. lawmakers: consider this idea!
Assuming Canada had extra billions in a time of large deficits, consider the birth bond – a government investment to be made each time a child is born. The investment would be held until the child turns, say, 18, and then made available for postsecondary education or an apprenticeship program. Canada has 370,000 births a year. How much could it afford to put into an ambitious investment for each newborn, instead of into jail expansion? ...
Canada could seed an education account for each newborn with $13,783. Outlandish? Maybe, but it makes more sense than prison expansion, if the government is intent on spending an extra $5-billion. Canada wouldn’t need a birth bond, anyway; net tuition paid by all students is $3.5-billion a year. Instead of Truth in Sentencing, the country could afford Free in University, with change left over.
It's good stuff. Read it all.

-- Stowe