Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Harper government pushes ahead with U.S.-style justice system

Canada warned not to follow U.S. tough-on-crime ‘mistakes’
The man who headed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency under U.S. president George W. Bush says Canada should avoid the mistakes that caused incarceration rates to soar in his country.

Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who represented Arkansas in the U.S. Congress and a former prosecutor who advocated a tough approach to crime, has joined other high-profile members of his party in advocating a revision of harsh American justice policies.

... The Conservative government in Canada has introduced a slate of justice bills – some of which have been passed into law – that will put more people in jail for longer periods of time. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, the federal prison population will increase by 30 per cent in coming years.

... Because of tough criminal justice policies in the United States, one in every 100 American adults is behind bars – up from one in 400 in the 1970s.

“The United States has five per cent of the world’s population but 23 per cent of the world’s recorded prisoners,” said Mr. Hutchinson. “The incarceration costs are staggering, [running from] $18,000 to $50,000 per prisoner per year, depending upon the state and the level of security. And that cost is very challenging for many states.”
The Conservatives are pursuing their "tough-on-crime" policies despite the fact that crime rates have been declining in recent years, and prisons are already overstretched (Prisons plagued by overcrowding, poor conditions, ombudsman reports; Why Canada's prisons can't cope with flood of mentally ill inmates).

Only 24% of voters want more money spent on the justice system. The Harper government has refused to say how much the resulting prison expansion will cost, saying it's a secret:
The federal Liberals have been complaining bitterly that the Harper government won't reveal cost projections for tough-on-crime legislation that would drastically increase the number of citizens in Canada's prisons, and cost billions in prison construction and expansion.

The Tories have responded that such information falls under "cabinet confidence" and is a non-releasable state secret.

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