P.E.I. justice costs to jump with federal crime law

P.E.I. will face increased justice system costs with the new federal crime law that passed earlier this week, says a report released by Canada's Parlimentary Budget Officer.
P.E.I. will likely need more jail beds now that the federal crime bill, C-10, is in effect. (CBC)

P.E.I. will face increased justice system costs with the new federal crime law that passed earlier this week, says a report released by Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The Conservative's controversial crime bill, Bill-C10, was passed in the House of Commons March 12.

P.E.I.'s provincial jail houses about 80 inmates, but at times there are more than 130. The facility added 48 new beds last year for inmates serving weekend sentences, but it still ends up overcrowded.

Under the new law, more incarceration is expected due to minimum mandatory sentences as well as changes to conditional sentences.

More than 70 offences that used to be eligible for conditional sentences such as house arrest will now have to be served in jail.

Kevin Page's report shows how, if the law was in place in 2008, the province's costs would have been different.

It indicates that two P.E.I. offenders, instead of getting house arrest, would have ended up in jail, but at a much higher cost —from just under $3,000 for house arrest, to more than $55,000 to have the two serve their sentences in jail.

"Incarceration is expensive.There's a bit of a sticker shock when you see it in terms of dollar figures," said Page.

P.E.I. Justice Minister Janice Sherry said money could be better spent in the community, rather than on new jail beds. (CBC)

And Page's report doesn't include costs from other parts of the new law such as mandatory minimum sentences or the capital cost of having to add jail space, something P.E.I.'s Justice Minister Janice Sherry is anticipating.

"Our bed days in Prince Edward Island have increased 30 per cent over the last year, so when you look at the implications of Bill C-10, we are certainly recognizing the fact that there will be impacts," Sherry said.

She said these extra dollars could be much better spent.

"Seventy per cent of the people who are serving time in our criminal justice system are dealing with alcohol-drug addiction or serious mental illness," Sherry said.

" If those dollars that we will now be spending to incarcerate people could have been used in preventative programs in our communities to help individuals wwith these types of issues, what a difference we would make."

Sentencing under the new law is the second highest in the country, after Newfoundland and just slightly over Ontario.

This is mainly because the province has some of the highest per-day costs for incarceration — $252 (2008 costs), versus a national average closer to $175.

Sherry said that's because smaller facilities, like Sleepy Hollow, have to spread their costs for things like staffing and capital costs over fewer inmates.

The report doesn't calculate costs from other parts of the new law, such as mandatory minimum sentences.

"That's what's really going to spike the numbers and I think we really as yet have not had from this government any notion of what they likely know is going to be the cost," legal aid lawyer, Trish Cheverie, said.

That's why P.E.I. continues, along with the other provinces, to lobby Ottawa for some funding to cover the anticipated increases from the new law.

The province is also asking the federal government to phase in the changes to spread out the impact on the justice system.