HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bill C-15 Could Fill Prisons
Pubdate: Thu, 26 Mar 2009
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 The Georgia Straight
Author: Carlito Pablo
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


On March 2, the Pew Center on the States, a Washington, D.C.-based
think tank, released a report on the staggering growth of the American
correctional system.

Entitled One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, the report
noted that "sentencing and release laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s
put so many more people behind bars that last year the incarcerated
population reached 2.3 million and, for the first time, one in 100
adults was in prison or jail."

It also cited the tremendous increase in the number of people on
probation or parole, such that "combined with those in prison and
jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some
form of correctional control."

Why is this relevant to Canada?

"We only need to go south of the border and see a nation that enacted
mandatory minimums related to drug offences from the mid-1980s on,"
criminologist Susan Boyd told the Georgia Straight. "It didn't reduce
violence and drug use. So here we are saying, 'We're going to do this.' "

Boyd-an associate professor at UVic and research fellow at the Centre
for Addictions Research of B.C.-was referring to the reintroduction in
Parliament by the Conservative government of a bill that proposes
mandatory minimum jail sentences for drug offenders.

If passed into law, Bill C-15 would, among its other provisions, throw
people caught with one marijuana plant into the slammer for a minimum
of six months. If growing a single plant is done on a property that
belongs to another person or in an area where it may present a hazard
to children, minimum jail time is nine months.

Worse, the bill seeks to increase the maximum penalty for this
particular offence to 14 years.

Vancouver's so-called Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, who is fighting
extradition on charges of selling marijuana seeds to American growers,
is a potential U.S. prison statistic.

Emery was handing out leaflets condemning drug prohibition, along with
his wife, Jodie, on the south side of the city when the Straight asked
him about Bill C-15. "Anything that puts more people in jail for drugs
is going to fill prisons," he said. "It's a very expensive and failed
policy that will only bring us more misery."

The Pew Center on the States report pointed out that many states in
the U.S. "appear to have reached a 'tipping point' where additional
incarceration will have little if any effect on crime".

In Washington state, which shares a border with B.C., the report
stated, "from 1980 to 2001, the benefit-to-cost ratio for drug
offenders plummeted from $9.22 to $0.37.

"That is, for every one dollar invested in new prison beds for drug
offenders, state taxpayers get only 37 cents in averted crime," it
noted. "An updated analysis from 2006 found that incarceration of
offenders convicted of violent offenses remained a positive net
benefit, while property and drug offenders offered negative returns."

Conservative Abbotsford MP Ed Fast deflected criticism that mandatory
jail times haven't worked in the U.S.

"First of all, on the issue of deterrence there's contradicting
evidence," Fast told the Straight. "I don't base my support for the
legislation on the deterrent effect. I base it on the prophylactic
effect of the legislation. Prophylactic means taking repeat, violent
offenders out of our communities for longer periods of time."

Bill C-15 is a reincarnation of Bill C-26, which the Conservatives
introduced in November 2007.

In February 2008, a few months after Bill C-26 was tabled in
Parliament, Boyd started sending Prime Minister Stephen Harper a
weekly letter in an attempt to educate the Conservative leader about
harm reduction and drug regulation.

Boyd did this for a year, and she sent her 52nd and final letter in
early February this year. Bill C-15 was introduced on February 27, a
day after the Conservatives filed Bill C-14, which toughens penalties
for gang-associated violent activities.

As an educator, Boyd has this to say about mentoring Harper: "The prime
minister gets a failing grade on drug policy."



Total correctional-services expenditures in 2005-06: almost $3

Share spent on custodial services or prisons: 71

Associated policing and court costs in 2005-06: more than $10

Number of correctional facilities in Canada in 2005-06:

Annual cost of incarcerating a federal female prisoner in 2004-05:
$150,000 to $250,000

Annual cost of incarcerating a federal male prisoner in 2004-05:

Daily cost of incarcerating a provincial prisoner in 2004-05:

Daily cost of alternatives such as probation, bail supervision, and
community supervision: $5 to $25




Libby Davies

NDP MP, Vancouver East

"There's a lot of information, both in the United States and in
Canada, that shows that mandatory minimum sentencing regimes for drug
offences are ineffective. This is all about window-dressing for the
Conservatives' crime agenda. They want to impress people with their
tough-on-crime approach. One thing that will happen is that it could
very much overcrowd our prisons. We find the bill to be misdirected
and based on a very faulty premise. It's based on the U.S.'s war on
drugs, which has been a complete failure."

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Ed Fast

Conservative MP, Abbotsford

"What Bill C-15 does is it's connecting the sale of drugs to
aggravating factors. If there's a sale or production or growing of
drugs that occurs and violence is present, we will put those guys
behind bars. But we also want to make sure that low-level dealers that
are dealing in drugs simply because they're addicted can actually get
the help that they deserve. We believe it's a balanced approach. We're
not going after the marijuana users. We're going after the guys who
really present an ongoing danger to our community."

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Ujjal Dosanjh

Liberal MP, Vancouver South

"Bill[s] C-14 and [C-]15? We have said that we'll support both of
them. We agree with tougher penalties for serious and violent and
chronic offenders. But that alone isn't going to do the job. That's
why we believe this government is failing significantly in their drive
to deal with the issue of crime. They're failing Canadians because
they're not emphasizing crime-preventing, they're not providing
resources for youth programs, they're not providing actual police
officers on the ground, [and] they're not providing

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Adrianne Carr

Deputy leader, Green Party of Canada

"The Green party doesn't support mandatory sentencing because it has
proven to not work. It's coming from this tough-on-crime perspective.
What we've seen is that our court system wastes extraordinarily high
resources in prosecuting the petty criminals involved in drug cases,
particularly marijuana. We should be legalizing marijuana, which has
been suggested by the Senate of Canada and the Fraser Institute, and
these are hardly radical institutions. What we have to do is delink
the profit motive from drugs." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake