One Last Thing

Making ''sense'' of the dollar and cents debate

This issue of FrontLine Security provides a fascinating look into the full spectrum of financial issues in the security and crime investigation worlds. These subjects are frequently overlooked especially by our increasingly sound byte-driven media and political decision makers. That’s unfortunate because, as several articles in this issue make clear, understanding the financial circumstances that can empower criminality or terrorism is a pre-requisite to designing effective strategies to thwart and prevent them.

Appreciating the financial consequences of how we choose to deal with crime or security is also a subject that ­merits closer attention. Putting G20 Summits in Toronto or letting the Department of Justice run the Gun Registry are high profile examples of this choice-consequence reality, but there are many more that, frankly, involve a whole lot more money and desperately need to see the informed light of day.

This thought occurred to me as I listened to shrill accusations from someone opposed to Bill C-25 (the Bill that would finally eliminate career and bail breaching criminals getting not only credit but ­double or triple credit for time served before they were convicted of their latest offence... that’s right… we actually reward people at sentencing who are denied bail because of their continuing criminal conduct).

This goofy practice emerged in the late 90s, when some members of the Ontario ‘juristocracy’ decided that the conditions in remand facilities weren’t up to snuff. So, rather than put down their gavels and run for office to change things, they abused their discretion under s.719(3) of the Criminal Code and started automatically increasing ‘credit’ for thugs lawfully and properly denied bail.

Guess what? The criminals and their lawyers quickly figured this out, and it had immediate con$equences. Why go to trial quickly or plead guilty now when you can delay and get double or triple credit for every day in remand? Duh!!!

Remand populations skyrocketed… jail sentences got shortened (although you have to read the fine print as the same judges like to pretend they’re handing out ‘tough’ sentences), and provinces who pay for remand and prisons for sentences under two years saw their costs increase. That explains why changing this law has been at the top of the Provincial justice reform agenda for years.

Having lost the battle when the Bill passed, the ‘we know best’ crowd are now claiming that these measures will cost untold billions which has largely gone unchallenged. Given all the variables, no one can completely predict the exact financial costs, but my instincts as a former Crown Prosecutor and justice system analyst suggest that, absent the incentive, remand populations and times will decrease, court backlogs will shorten, and more criminals will end up in federal prisons than provincial prisons. Those are all savings which should be added to the accounting ledger. It is true that some offenders will get longer provincial sentences and that there will, one hopes, be an increase in the federal prison population of these repeat offenders who are the target of this reform. By all means, add that to that calculation. Let’s also add a reduction in the number of crimes these same guys commit at a disproportionately high rate, which means less police investigations, prosecutions and incarceration.

Why can we do that? Because these thugs will be in custody longer which is a good thing. As anyone familiar with our lego-centric ‘justice’ system will affirm, it is very expensive to investigate and prosecute serious crime in Canada – which is why we save a ton of dough when we prevent them in the first place. Prevention, however, includes denial of opportunity as much as it does self awareness counselling.

Let’s put in place a fully informed, objective accounting system to track the real cost of this reform… and I’m betting, if we don’t let the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association do the bean counting, we’ll actually save money.

While we’re at it… let’s apply the same approach to s.6 that will repeal s.745 and deny convicted murders – supposedly serving ‘life’ sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years – the current ‘right’ to seek a backdoor early parole after only 15 years, and every two years thereafter if they don’t get out early immediately.

I attended Clifford Olson’s 745 hearings with the victims’ families, and I have never been more ashamed of our justice system than I was then. Getting rid of this ‘right’ for murderers will cost money because far too many are released early but, again, let’s be sure we deduct the cost of all those hearings that won’t be held for those that wouldn’t have qualified.

This cost analysis is equally important on measures we haven’t taken. The failure to put in place a modern biometric bad-guy lookout system is a big part of why hundreds of deported non-citizen criminals get back into our country – where we find them… after they have committed new crimes. The cost? Think tens of millions annually.

We also haven’t figured out how to expeditiously remove non-citizens who commit crimes. This, in large measure, is because our laws require their consent if we do it while they’re serving their sentence. Just as bad, because CSC and CBSA don’t collectively prioritize the removal of these criminals. The result? Virtually all of them end up being granted parole (?!), so they get out of jail early while supposedly awaiting removal.

There’s one sure way to prevent removal under the current system, and that is to commit a new crime – because the law forbids removing such a person until the new proceedings are completed and they’ve finished their sentence. Think revolving door with another tens of millions annual price tag.

Not having a joint force mobile intelligence-led border interdiction force means drugs and guns on our streets, and the crime and costs that come with it.

Not using electronic monitoring on select offenders means foregoing an effective supervision tool that increases offender compliance in a cost-effective fashion.

This financial lens should also include examining the results we get in security and criminal justice expenditures. How about making the Air Travellers Security Charge a statutory dedicated revenue fund with mandated purposes instead of yet another ventricle into the black hole of general revenue? The list goes on.

The federal Government needs to ensure that there is an objective and informed accounting of their intended security and criminal justice actions – because $ensible policies and laws in the long run inevitably make financial sense as well. $ound and $ensible $ecurity!!!

Scott Newark is an Associate Editor at FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2010