len's masthead




londoner editor pic





Justin Bourque’s recent sentence sparks questions about crime control. Bourque received three automatic life sentences after pleading guilty to three counts of first degree murder an two counts of attempted murder of five RCMP officers in Moncton New Brunswick.

In 2011, the Federal government passed legislation to stop "sentence discounts" for those convicted of multiple murders. It is through this legislation that Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. This means Bourque will be 99 years old before he can even apply for parole, should he live that long

The federal Conservative Party under the leadership of Prime Minster Stephen Harper is building massive, very expensive mega-prisons to show that they are tough on crime, incarcerating those who have run a foul of the law.

The annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2011-12 is an eye opener.

Canadians should be interested in who is ending up behind bars. Questions about whom we incarcerate, for how long and why are important public policy issues. Existing within an increasing diverse and pluralistic society, federal prisons reflect the nation’s changing demographics.

Visible minorities, aboriginal people and women are entering federal penitentiaries in greater numbers then ever before. Twenty-one percent of the inmate population is of aboriginal descent and nine percent of the inmates are black Canadians. Incarceration rates for these two groups far exceed their representation rates in the Canadian society at large. In the last five years, the number of incarcerated women has increased 40% while the number of aboriginal women has increased 80% in the last decade.

More offenders who are admitted to federal prisons are addicted and mentally ill in need of psychiatric aid. 63% of offenders report using alcohol or drugs on the day of their current offence.

Hard to provide for a safe and secure custody to meet the growing mental/physical health needs of such a diverse complex population.

In recent years, corrections has seen significant growth. In the two-year period between March 2010 and March 2012 the federal in-custody population (15,000) increased by 1,000 inmates that is almost 7%, which is the equivalent of two large medium security institutions.

Expenditures on federal corrections totaled approximately $2.375 billion in 2010-11 which represented a 44% increase since 2005-06. Budgetary expenditures for 2011-12 are estimated at $3 billion. The annual average cost of keeping an inmate behind bars in 2009-10 was $113,000. In contrast, the annual cost to keep an offender in the community is about $29,500.

According to Stats Canada: violent crime is at it’s lowest rate since 1967 and yet the Canadian government is hell bent on building mega prisons to warehouse those who run afoul of the law.

The social sciences evidence on these questions is clear and unequivocal: not only do longer terms of imprisonment fail to see a reduction in crime, they have been proven to increase the rate of recidivism and the severity of the offences that are committed by those who re-offend.

In other words increasing punishment has proved to have little effect on the reduction of crime. Rather, in most cases, it increases it.

Perhaps Canadians should spend some time to reflect on the financial/human cost of incarcerating those who for the most part are in need of help. For the vast majority of offenders their time spent in prisons is a waste of taxpayers dollars.

Early intervention for our youth who are at risk of offending provides learning opportunities for them to be productive law abiding citizens.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com