Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We have fewer criminals, but are building jails

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THE prison population in Canada is expected to grow by more than 30 per cent in the next few years. Ironically, this is not because the crime rate is increasing. The crime rate is actually going down. It is because the federal government has concluded fewer people should spend more time in jail so that it can appear that Stephen Harper's Conservatives are getting tough on crime, as they have long threatened to do but were prevented from doing by their minority status.

Now they are majority and in a parliamentary democracy that means they can do pretty well what they want. The widely held suspicion is that the government wants to build mega-prisons to house our dangerous offenders such as serial killers and occasional recreational marijuana growers, teen-aged car thieves and violent rapists.

The Conservatives deny they want to build mega-prisons, but they are intent on doing everything else by legislating minimum penalties for various crimes, some of which, such as drug use or drug sales, do not even need to be crimes at all. Were those activities to be decriminalized, it would open up a host of prison cells for the rapists, the muggers, the serial killers, all the violent criminals who need to be behind bars.

That, of course, would require a minimum of common sense from our legislators, and that is apparently too much to expect. So instead of mega-prisons -- politically unpopular -- we are going to get mini-maxi-prisons built inside minimum and medium security institutions such as is now planned at the Stony Mountain Institution. About 2,500 mini-max cells are planned in correctional institutions across the country at a cost of almost $2 billion.

When you add to that the fact it costs well over $100,000 a year to keep anybody in any kind of jail cell for any sort of offence at all, that's a pretty expensive prospect for a war on crime that we seem to be already winning without it.

Mexico offers a better deal to the Americans that we could probably get as well. It will take our shoplifters, our weed smokers, our teen-aged joy-riders, our rapists, wife-beaters and serial killers and, for about $20,000 per con per year, lock them up in jails that will truly teach them they don't want to ever go back. That's cheap at twice the price if we don't care what happens to these people anyway.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2011 J2

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