OTTAWA–Provinces are spending $2.7 billion to expand or replace aging and overcrowded jails across Canada – with little public scrutiny, an Ottawa researcher says.
Justin Piché, a PhD candidate in sociology at Carleton University, obtained data through freedom of information requests, email and phone contact with each of the provinces and territories.
In all, Piché says at least 22 new “bigger and better” provincial-territorial prisons are at various stages of completion, some still in the planning or early tendering stages. If all are built, he says, they will increase the capacity of provincial adult jails by at least 5,788 beds.
Piché said part of the expansion may be tied to anticipated prison population increases flowing from federal Conservative government moves to: bring in more mandatory minimum sentences; end “house arrest” for serious crimes; and eliminate “two-for-one” sentencing credits for time already served.
Aging infrastructure, rising remand populations and persistent overcrowding plus “preparing for the influx of new prisoners resulting from ongoing `tough on crime’ legislation at the federal level, have all contributed to the latest Canadian prison boom,” says Piché in remarks prepared for a public library presentation Wednesday.
Piché estimates the price tag for building the new and expanded facilities at $2.724 billion, with operating costs to maintain the added beds likely to be more than $300 million annually.
That’s not counting any plans the federal government may have for expanding federal penitentiaries, where sentences more than two years are served.
Piché says it is unclear whether Ontario will close the Don Jail once the new 1,650-bed facility in Toronto is constructed or whether the new 315-bed facility in Windsor will prompt the close of its existing jail.
Piché, a co-editor of Journal of Prisoners on Prison, questioned such large expenditures, stressing for the Ottawa forum that research finds “relying more heavily on imprisonment does not reduce crime.
“Do we want to live in a country that constructs prisons instead of schools, hospitals, public transportation hubs and the like?”