Prison math


This week on The House, Evan Solomon reflects on the true costs of incarceration.

Listen to Evan's weekly commentary here.

Vic Toews: "You may have heard innuendo and attacks from my opposition critics accusing our government of plans to build all kinds of new prisons across the country.This is simply not true."

That's Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister, settling some political scores while announcing he closure of three prison facilities this week.


Toews is closing the Kingston Pen, which houses notorious killers like Paul Bernardo and Russel Williams, and in the same area he is also closing the regional treatment facility for inmates fro mental illness. He's also closing another prison called Leclerc.

Taxpayers will save $120-million.

The closures, Toews argues, also illustrate that opposition claim about the government's omnibus crime bill jamming up prisons is just fear mongering.

There is plenty of slack in the system, he says, to absord the over 1,000 inmates from the three facilities.

So, Is it really an open and shut case?

No new prisons, plenty of cells available, and lots of money saved?

Well, maybe not.

True, the government is not building new prisons, but it is dramatically expanding prison capacity. It's building 2,400 new spaces in 33 older facilities.

2,400 new beds is the equivalent of building six new prisons.

And what about the $120-million in savings?

The government is spending $630-million to build those new cells, and that price doesn't even include the operating costs.

Keepi in mind, after the F-35 controversy over total costs, should we calculate all the costs to operate these new prison cells?

How many new staff are needed?

The Parliamentary Budget Officer says the total operating costs could be in the billions.

And what about the influx of those new prisoners? Has that happened?

Well, the opposition did talk about 3,500 new inmates and that has not happened.

But according to the Corrections and Conditions Release Statistical Overview, there are a 1,000 new inmates in the past two years. That's the equaivalent of almost three new prison facilities.

And even that needs context.

The union representing prison guards argues that the system could still be over taxed:

Jason Godin: "We don't have enough maximum security beds to manage this transition from Kingston Pen into the new units, we don't know when the completion of the new units will be. And we still don't have any real knowledge or impact of what impact Bill C-10 is going to have on us. So again, it just seems to us that the cart is before the horse."

And how much capacity in the systme could there really be if there are nearly 1,400 prisoners in Canada who are double- bunked? Two prisoners for a cell designed for one, something Corrections Services says is reserved for an emergency.

And finally, the closure of the Regional Treament facility. What to do about prisoners with mental illness?

What will it cost to treat them in different facilities? Or worse, to leave them untreated?

Look, the government often asks what is the true cost of crime to victims and to society?

It's a good question.

Maybe we should ask it on the other end as well thoug.

What's the true cost of incarceration?

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