Pubdate: Sat, 17 Mar 2012
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2012 The StarPhoenix
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Heading into a budget that Premier Brad Wall warns will bring 
"significant change" through belt-tightening, it's disconcerting to 
learn his government still has no idea of the additional costs 
Saskatchewan will incur from the federal crime bill it so eagerly supported.

The omnibus legislation, which became law this week, includes 
mandatory minimum sentences for some offences including drug crimes, 
keeps many young offenders behind bars as they await trial, and 
curtails the use of conditional sentences for crimes deemed too 
serious to be dealt with using such measures as house arrest.

Even though Justice Minister Don Morgan acknowledges the new 
legislation isn't likely to decrease the number of persons 
incarcerated, he says it's impossible yet to realistically estimate 
the additional costs.

When the minister says, "Our correctional facilities are certainly at 
or above max right now (and) we are looking at options to try to 
increase our capacity," it suggests that higher costs are inevitable 
and will be a factor for the coming budget and beyond.

In the face of a provincial budget that the premier says will see 
some programs in non-social program areas eliminated and others 
scaled back, the government's seeming willingness to leave penal 
system spending open-ended is troubling, especially if the desire to 
keep the books balanced means further cuts to public services along the way.

The government supports the purpose of the federal bill, many of 
whose provisions were requested by the provinces, says Mr. Morgan. 
Yet, as many legal academics, criminologists, defence lawyers, social 
scientists and others point out, citing the experience of the United 
States where tough-oncrime provisions are now being dumped, the new 
law could actually exacerbate crime and increase provincial costs.

Among the ways for Saskatchewan to find money to pay for bigger 
prisons might be to ask rural governments to cover a higher portion 
of RCMP policing costs, and to pick up the tab for regional economic 
development agencies. Or it might be to hold the line on program 
budgets and continue to shrink the civil service by four per cent a 
year, so that spending doesn't keep pace with population growth and inflation.

Coupled with the inescapable reality of having to invest in such 
areas as education, particularly when it comes to helping a large 
cohort of off-reserve aboriginal children acquire the knowledge and 
skills that will help Saskatchewan secure their future and ours, 
something has to give.

Will it have to be in other big tickets areas such health, where a 
growing number of seniors in the population and issues related to 
income and social disparities continue to drive up costs? Could it 
mean holding the line or tightening up on social services, where 
society's poorest are being buffeted by rising costs for basics such 
as shelter and food?

It's laudable that the government wants to keep a check on its 
spending even when economic times are good. However, it sends the 
wrong message when seemingly exempt from such scrutiny is spending on 
prisons, where the province seems content to dance to the federal tune.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom