Recent Articles

Recent Comments

« | Main | »

Ottawa will expand prisons to suit tough crime laws

By admin | October 22, 2009


OTTAWA From Friday’s Globe and Mail

The Conservative government has doubled the budget for prison construction and maintenance as it prepares federal institutions for an influx of inmates resulting from its suite of new crime laws.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan revealed the government is leaning toward renovating existing prisons and building new wings as Ottawa’s short-term approach to managing the increase.

He said cabinet will take another two or three years before deciding whether there is a need to build large new regional prisons as recommended in a 2007 advisory report – but the government already has some land in mind.

The plots are currently being used by inmates for milking cows and gathering eggs to feed their fellow convicts. It is part of the prison-farm program the government is phasing out after more than 150 years.

Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper government has introduced several justice proposals that would increase the use of mandatory minimum sentences, end house arrests and eliminate a judge’s ability to credit a prisoner with two days served for every one spent in pretrial custody in calculating sentences.

Mr. Van Loan said he has seen internal estimates that provide a projected range for prison population growth as a result of government legislation either passed or before Parliament. However, those numbers are a cabinet confidence and cannot be disclosed, he said.

“Each bill brings with it a different impact,” Mr. Van Loan said. “But ultimately we anticipate some need for major investment.”

Most of the approximately 33,000 offenders now incarcerated are the responsibility of the provinces or territories, either because they are awaiting trial or sentencing or serving sentences of less than two years.

Mr. Van Loan said new minimum sentences and an end to bonuses for time spent awaiting trial would see more people serving more than two years and, as a result, ending up in one of Canada’s 58 federal institutions.

“The effect of that bill [ending the two-for-one credit] is essentially a massive transfer, financially and in terms of custodial obligations, from the provinces to the federal government,” he said.

Mr. Van Loan, who is responsible for the Correctional Service of Canada, said that until cabinet decides on a long-term plan, the farm-program lands will be rented out to farmers.

“It wouldn’t be prudent to dispose of the land if you may have potential plans in the future to build super regional prisons,” he said. “We don’t know how many we will do. But it just wouldn’t make a lot of sense in protecting the taxpayer’s interest to unload all that land and then decide three, four years hence that you’ve got to get it back.”

A public campaign is under way to save the prison-farm program, which teaches inmates at six institutional farms the ins and outs of agriculture. Proponents, including current prison farmers who are speaking out in the media, say the program teaches universal skills like punctuality. They also say caring for animals instills a sense of compassion.

The government says the program’s $4-million budget could be better spent elsewhere, given that less than 1 per cent of released inmates end up in agriculture. Mr. Van Loan said the public and inmates are better served by programs focused on more employable skills such as landscaping or furniture-making, adding that landing a job after prison is a key factor in avoiding a return to crime.

He denied any link between the program’s end and the government’s expansion plans.

The move to mandatory minimums is in response to the perception among some that Canada has a “revolving-door” justice system that goes easy on repeat offenders. The measures are supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, particularly in relation to anti-drug measures contained in a bill now before the Senate.

Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, says the American experience shows mandatory minimums don’t work.

“The most law-and-order states in the United States have turned away from muscular sentencing and mandatory minimums on the basis that no reasonable state budget can manage the level of incarceration that those laws require,” Mr. Addario said. The annual average cost of keeping a Canadian inmate incarcerated is $93,030.

The possibility of using the farm land for prisons was first confirmed by Mr. Van Loan in a written response tabled recently in the House of Commons replying to a question from Liberal MP Mark Holland. The minister’s response also revealed the annual budget for “corrections infrastructure” has grown from $88.5-million in 2006-07 to $195.1-million this year. It is projected to peak at $211.6-million in fiscal year 2010-11.

Mr. Van Loan has embraced the recommendations of a controversial 2007 advisory report prepared for the federal government by Rob Sampson, a former minister of corrections in Ontario’s Mike Harris government.

Among the report’s wide-ranging recommendations was a call to create large new regional correctional facilities that would house high-, medium- and low-security prisoners in one location – though physically separated from each other.

The report said this would lead to administrative savings by sharing common services like food. While other recommendations from the 2007 report are already government policy, the government until now has been silent on the call for new prisons.

A report by prisoner-rights advocates Michael Jackson and Graham Stewart warned last month that some of the recommendations contain “draconian implications” for human rights, yet are being implemented with little public or parliamentary debate.

The Jackson-Stewart report acknowledged the need for upgrades to aging facilities, but said the call for regional complexes was “ill advised” and not well thought out.



Offenders serving a sentence of less than two years, as well as adults held in custody while awaiting trial or sentencing (known as remand), are the responsibility of provinces and territories. Ottawa is responsible for the detention of offenders serving two years or more.

Provincial custody

  • In remand: 12,888
  • Serving sentences: 9,750

Federal custody

  • Serving sentences: 13,304

Incarceration rates


  • Canada: 117 people in custody for every 100,000 (including youth)
  • United States: 762 in custody per 100,000 (not including youth)

Annual budget for prison infrastructure

  • 2005-06 $88.6-million
  • 2007-08 $103.1-million
  • 2008-09 $151-million
  • 2009-10 $195.1-million
  • 2010-11 $211.6-million
  • 2011-12 $163.2-million
  • 2012-13 $113.1-million

Farewell to the farms

After more than 150 years, Ottawa is shutting down the Prison Farm Program, which teaches inmates to take care of animals and provides products to the prison population. The government notes that of 25,000 offenders released over the last five years, less than 1 per cent found work in agriculture.

Sources: Responses tabled in the House; Statistics Canada

10/20/2009 3:57:50 PM
And I’m willing to bet that, like in the U.S., the vast majority of prisoners are there for pot crimes. Yep, let’s pay $93,000 a year to jail someone who had the audacity to grow a few cannabis plants. Or better yet, lets put your 19 year old son in jail for two years when he passes a joint to his adult friend in a park (a place where young people might congregate). What the hell has happened to our country that we would support this? Lock up the morons who would fire guns at each other. Lock up those who would sexually violate our children. Leave the damned peaceful pot people alone.

10/20/2009 8:55:33 AM
Save millions on prison costs! Check it out!

10/19/2009 11:46:26 PM
Lost Fenian writes: “It does, however, make the mouth breathers who can’t understand the difference between justice and revenge feel better, as they can vent the frustrations they feel in their powerless little lives by punishing someone else for their own failures.”

Yes, I’d like to see the guy who broke into my house punished, even though it was my failure. What kind of meaningless drivel is that? How is it my failure the guy was given a second chance by a senile judge after his 65 previous break-ins? That’s the judges failure, idiot.

“The overwhelming weight of evidence clearly proves that incarceration is not a deterrent to crime.”

Really? How many crimes are committed from jail? Being in a jail cell reduces a criminals ability to break my door jam with his screwdriver. Is there something about the logic you don’t understand? I suppose there is a study out there funded by the “Criminal Lawyers Association” that claims crime is beneficial to our society because it employs policemen, judges, lawyers, criminologists and morticians. Any idiot can generate a study that supports any idiotic idea he may have, and they have other idiots repeat it.

I’m merely a useless voter, a member of a democracy. The vast majority of voters want tougher crime sentences but we’re obviously too stupid and ignorant to be listened to. We need lawyers, judges and politicians to harness our stupidity into a meaningful purpose: making money for the legal industry.

Many offenses are committed by people addicted to drugs who need treatment but they don’t get it. The amount of money spent on judges and lawyers to process each drug addict before letting them go could be better spent getting treatment for them. Why doesn’t the legal industry fight for that? – because they don’t give a damn and after all it’s somebody else’s responsibility. Addicts are better off in prison for 6months, away from the drugs, but that wouldn’t generate enough legal business, would it?

10/19/2009 1:23:54 PM
The latest Tory emulation of all things American.

Good to see the wooly neanderthals on here still espousing their lock’em up, hang ‘em high, vigilante methods of justice wherein the incarceration rate in Canada will approach that of the Land Of The Imprisoned south of the border where corporations that donate to political parties run private prisons choked with young males attending crime school, thereby guaranteeing that they will re-offend when they are released.

The overwhelming weight of evidence clearly proves that incarceration is not a deterent to crime.

It does, however, make the mouth breathers who can’t understand the difference between justice and revenge feel better, as they can vent the frustrations they feel in their powerless little lives by punishing someone else for their own failures.

More Tory pandering to their base reactionary core.

10/19/2009 1:13:00 PM
Why can’t we outsource some of our correctional facility to 3rd world country like China and Bangladesh?

We already do it for some many other things, I’m sure they could ‘handle’ some of our prisoners (and we could save a pretty penny in the process)

As an added bonus, the thugs would get to visit a ‘new’ place and learn of ‘other’ cultures… and they might gain a little appreciation for the quality of life in Canada.

Topics: Articles | Comments Off

Comments are closed.