Budget watchdog contradicts Tories on cost of sentencing crackdown

Budget watchdog contradicts Tories on cost of sentencing crackdown

New restrictions on the use of conditional sentences will lead to higher costs for Ottawa – and especially the provinces – according to a new analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The report (external - login to view) by Kevin Page directly contradicts Conservative assertions that the measure would not lead to higher costs for Ottawa. The changes are just one part of the government’s omnibus crime bill, C-10, which has been passed by the House of Commons and is currently being studied in the Senate.

The PBO attempts to calculate how government costs would be different if the measure was in place for the 2008-09 fiscal year. It concludes Ottawa would be on the hook for $7.9-million more in prosecution and parole review costs, while the provinces would face $137-million for higher prosecution, court, prison and parole review costs.

Considering federal and provincial governments spend hundreds of billions each year, the added costs are quite small as a percentage of total spending.

However the PBO report cautions this analysis only covers one aspect of one part of Bill C-10 and does not include potential capital costs such as building new prisons. Bill C-10, the “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” is an omnibus bill that brings together nine previously separate pieces of legislation that had been introduced but not passed before the last election.

Still, the report also notes that Ottawa told MPs in October that the conditional sentence provisions would have no added costs, while
the entire C-10 legislation would lead to a total of $78.6-million in additional costs over five years.

The section covered by Tuesday’s PBO report is a proposed change to section 742.1 of the Criminal Code. The change would mean individuals no longer qualify for conditional sentences if they are convicted of an offence where the maximum term of imprisonment for the offence is 14 years or life, or offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years and the offence resulted in bodily harm, involved the trafficking, import/export, or production of drugs, or involved the use of a weapon.

The PBO estimates this change would have meant 4,500 offenders would no longer be eligible for a conditional sentence and could therefore face a prison sentence. Of those, 650 would be acquitted. The report also estimates the average cost per offender will rise significantly, from approximately $2,600 to approximately $41,000.

The 89-page PBO analysis was conducted after a Sept. 29, 2011 request for the information by NDP MP Joe Comartin.

Budget watchdog contradicts Tories on cost of sentencing crackdown - The Globe and Mail
Bill C-10 would increase cost per offender by 16 times

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a new report estimating the costs of implementing Bill C-10. It says that if the bill had been in force in 2008-2009, the average cost per offender would have increased from $2,600 to about $41,000. This would have added $8 million to federal costs and $137 million to provincial and territorial costs.

The report (external - login to view), published on February 28, is titled "The Fiscal Impact of Changes to Eligibility got Conditional Sentences of Imprisonment in Canada."

The "Key Messages and Highlights" section of the report says (bolding and italics in the original):
PBO analysis is based on a simple model (involving no behavioural changes) asking: What would the fiscal impact of the changes to eligibility for CSIs be had Bill C-10 been in force in 2008-2009?

PBO analysis indicates that as a consequence of the change:

1. approx. 4,500 offenders would no longer be eligible for a CSI and, as such, face the threat of a prison sentence;

2. 650 of that 4,500 will be acquitted, meaning fewer offenders under correctional supervision;

3. offenders who are punished will, on average, be under supervision for a shorter amount of time (225 days instead of 348 days); and

4. the average cost per offender will rise significantly, from approx. $2,600 to approx. $41,000—representing about a 16 fold increase.
The highlights section goes on to say:
As a result, the PBO estimates that:

• The federal government would bear additional costs of about $8 million, reflecting the cost of increases in parole reviews by the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) and criminal prosecutions by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).
The government indicated no additional federal costs.

• The provincial and territorial governments would bear additional costs totalling about $137 million, reflecting the cost of increases in criminal prosecutions (except in the territories), court cases, incarceration, and parole reviews (in the case of Ontario and Québec).
The government has not indicated additional provincial and territorial government costs.

It should also be noted:
• PBO figures are based on two key assumptions:

1. 50% of offenders who pled guilty for a CSI will opt for trial.

2. Offenders who opt for trial may be acquitted.

• PBO analysis is primarily based on:

1. data obtained from Statistics Canada;

2. correctional data obtained from some provinces;

3. average costs of prosecution obtained from the PPSC; and

4. data obtained from Department of Justice reports and government documents provided to parliamentary committees.
PBO figures are likely underestimates. While they include no behavioural impacts, they also include no additional capital costs related to the building of new prisons.
The report was peer reviewed by a number of British, American and Canadian experts, including Simon Fraser University criminology professor Dr. Paul Brantingham.

Bill C-10 would increase cost per offender by 16 times: PBO :: The Hook (external - login to view)

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