P.E.I. Justice Minister Alan McIsaac says he is very concerned about the federal government’s proposed tough-on-crime bill and the millions in new costs it would mean for the Island’s already bursting correctional facilities.
The Harper government’s omnibus crime bill proposes major changes to several laws, including adding mandatory sentences for a number of offenses and new measures to deal with young offenders. It also creates new offences in the Criminal Code.
These new, tougher measures would mean more jail time for many offenders, and that will mean more beds and staffing at correctional facilities will be necessary.
But P.E.I.’s jails are already bursting at the seams. In fact, tenders went out Thursday on a $350,000 expansion at the youth correctional centre to make room for low-risk adult female inmates.
Due to jail overcrowding, these kinds of measures have become necessary.
That’s why McIsaac says he is very concerned about federal measures that would add further strain on P.E.I.’s already over-taxed correctional system.
“If the legislation goes through as it’s proposed, and it looks like it will, there are significant costs that the province will have to bear and we don’t have money for that in the budget,” he said.
“Our jails are full at the present time. We’re even doing the expansion right now at the youth centre for overflow.”
Changes made to the Criminal Code last year have led to a dramatic increase in the number of bed-stays in P.E.I. jails. Bed-stays are up 30 per cent over last year.
“If we put the new regulations in beside last years, what’s going to happen?” McIsaac asked.
He was adamant the federal government should have to foot the bill for any costs that would come from the omnibus crime bill.
Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland are among several provinces also voicing concerns about the court and jail costs of the Conservatives’ new justice laws.
Premier Robert Ghiz has been in talks with the other Atlantic provinces and the federal government, discussing the challenges Bill C-10 would bring to local governments.
But in the end, it will come down to the provinces demanding the feds foot the bill, McIsaac said.
“We’re going to need federal support,” he said.
“It’s not in our budget, we don’t have enough money for capital operations, for expansion, for anything.”
McIsaac wasn’t only critical of the price tag the tougher crime measures would mean for the Island. He also questioned the effectiveness of locking more offenders up for longer periods.
“It doesn’t prove that it works, locking these people up. We hear from the (United) States, and it doesn’t work for them, so why is it going to work here?”
The omnibus crime bill, officially named The Safe Streets and Communities Act, combines nine pieces of legislation the Conservatives failed to pass under the former minority government.
The Conservatives' election platform promised to pass Bill C-10 within 100 sitting days of Parliament.