Rathgeber disputes estimated costs of new crime bill

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Local member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber said the cost of a new justice bill, which eliminates the practice of two-for-one credit for pre-trial custody, will not cost $5 billion as the parliamentary budget officer suggested this week.

Kevin Page released a report this week on the Truth in Sentencing Act, which passed the house last year and has been in force since February.

The bill put an end to the controversial practice of giving prisoners two days of credit for each day spent in jail prior to sentencing.

In his report, Page estimated that cost at almost $5 billion over five years, but Rathgeber disputes how anyone could come to that figure.

Page’s analysis concludes the average prisoner will spend an extra 159 days in prison because of the new bill, which will see the headcount of the prison population across the country rise to 17,058 from 13,304.

Rathgeber said many of Page’s numbers are circumspect and his analysis is flawed.

“He himself admitted that he didn’t have the numbers for a correct analysis.”

In the report, Page conceded his analysis was hurt by numbers he could not receive from the government, but came to his conclusion based on the standard costs of housing an inmate.

The roughly 4,000 extra prisoners will cost the federal system about $150,000 to house, feed and secure. Page added in those operational costs as well as the cost of 13 new prisons he estimated would be necessary.

Rathgeber said there won’t be any need for new prisons and the government estimates the cost of the new bill at $2 billion.

“Corrections Canada and the minister have been quite clear that there are no capital plans for building prisons,” he said. “I don’t know where he came up with this idea that there were going to be 13 new prisons built.”

Page’s report notes federal institutions are usually at about 90 per cent capacity. Rathgeber said the increase in the headcount can be accommodated with that space as well as by double-bunking some inmates.

Rathgeber said he doesn’t doubt there will be some increased costs, but he also thinks they are worth paying for.

“We have to be equally mindful of the costs of not doing something about crime.”

He said crime costs Canadian society $70 billion, when insurance, stolen property, lost work and injury costs are all added together.

Page’s report was produced at the request of Liberal MP Mark Holland, who has criticized the figure. Rathgeber points out that Holland voted for this legislation, both in committee and in the House of Commons.

Even though he doesn’t trust Page’s numbers, if Holland wanted to debate the costs of the bill he should have done it much earlier, he said.

“If this was going to be a battle of the economists and the actuaries then it should have come up when the bill was being debated.”

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