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Tories' crime legislation not ballooning prison costs: Toews

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The federal corrections service will not be swamped with prisoners or forced to build new prisons because of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime legislation, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said today.

The Correctional Service of Canada overestimated the number of prisoners that would result from new crime legislation two years ago, he maintained.

It had forecast the federal prison population would swell to 17,725 by June.

But the actual count was far below that, Toews told a Winnipeg news conference. He said the number was 14,965.

Toews said a budgeted $1.48 billion in additional costs over seven years is not materializing. He said the money is being recouped.

Manitoba’s senior minister lashed out at opposition critics who, he said, had predicted $19 billion in extra capital costs and an additional $3 billion in operating costs to the prison system because of tougher crime laws.

He said the facts don’t bear out these claims.

Keeping repeat serious offenders in jail longer has reduced recidivism and kept costs manageable, Toews said.

That means the government will save $1.5 billion over the next seven years by foregoing capital spending requested by the department, Toews said.

The NDP dismissed Toews' comments as premature. They pointed out many of the anti-crime measures were only approved by Parliament this spring.

"They just got royal assent, so we still have to wait for the increase in the (prison) population. We're going to have to wait a few years and we're going to see it," Rosane Dore Lefebvre, the NDP's deputy critic of public safety, said from Ottawa.

"People are going to stay longer in the prisons with those bills and you're going to have more and more.

Some provincial governments are also concerned. Ontario and Quebec, among others, have said the number of inmates in jails, which are provincially run, could increase and drive up costs.

Manitoba has already seen its adult jail population jump to 2,415 from 1,678 since 2008. It has expanded capacity at a women's jail west of Winnipeg and will enlarge jails in Milner Ridge and The Pas later this year.

While the federal prison population this year is lower than expected, officials point out the number of people behind bars is still growing.

Howard Sapers, who fields complaints from federal inmates as his job as Canada's correctional investigator, has said some 1,000 extra inmates have been added to the system in recent years.

The government has already promised to add 2,700 new beds to existing facilities to ease over-crowding.

— with files from The Canadian Press

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 6:34 PM CDT: Adds details and reaction

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