OTTAWA—A new law that limits the amount of time federal inmates can get for time served in custody before and during their trial will cost the federal government $618 million more per year, says a new report from Parliament’s budget watchdog.
That does not include another $1.8 billion over five years to expand or build new prisons to house the roughly 3,754 more inmates that the change in legislation will bring to federal correctional institutions.
The report from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released Tuesday morning examined the economic impact of Bill C-25, the Truth in Sentencing Act, which limits the amount of time judges may grant as credit for time served to one day for each day served, except in extraordinary circumstances, where the credit can reach as high as a day and a half.
Liberal MP Mark Holland (Ajax—Pickering) asked Page to study the impact of the Conservative government’s law-and-order agenda last October, but Page decided to focus this report on just one bill due to the time and amount of data involved.
“The costs are very significant,” Holland said Monday, who declined to reveal the figures before the report was released.
Page said the Correctional Services Canada did not co-operate and so his study was unable to know what methodology the federal government used to estimate the financial impact of the legislation, which came into force Feb. 22.
So instead he used the 2007/08 fiscal year as a baseline and a probabilistic model to estimate the increase in the number of prisoners and associated costs the new legislation would bring into federal correctional institutions, which houses inmates serving sentences of two or more years, and how much longer they would have to serve.
Page also took into account construction costs to expand or build new prisons to meet the higher demand, upkeep and the money required to replace those new prisons once they age beyond repair.
Page found the new legislation would increase the average length of stay from 563 days in physical custody in 2007/08 to 722 days, which would bring the average headcount to 17,058 prisoners – with 9,021 in community supervision – per year.
That is up from a 2007/08 average headcount of 13,304, with 7,036 in community supervision.
Page found that would increase the annual cost of caring for those prisoners to $2.807 billion, up from $2.189 billion in 2007/08, an increase of $618 million per year.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews defended the high price tag as necessary, citing a 2003 estimate from the federal justice department that put the cost of crime at $70 billion annually.
“It does cost money to deal with serious criminals. But failing to do so costs so much more, and not just in dollars,” Chris McCluskey wrote in an email Monday. “Our government will continue to put the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals.”
Toews will react to the report at noon Tuesday.