Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of June 28, 2010)

Always a wise investment

  By John Martin


It's really quite amusing listening to the hug-a-thug crowd shrieking like a little girl who almost stepped on a snake about the projected costs of criminal justice reforms. Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, is predicting that billions of dollars will be required to construct new prisons in light of the Truth in Sentencing Act and other crime bills. The people screaming the loudest are, coincidentally, the exact same apologists who supported, and continue to support, a useless billion-dollar firearm registry. Their major talking point regarding the soaring costs of the registry was always, "if it saves just one life, it's been well worth the money." Well, it didn't save a single soul.

The federal government's criminal justice legislation, however, absolutely will contribute to public safety and will, without a doubt, be a direct factor in preventing countless serious crimes, including murder.

When, and if, they become law, the proposed reforms will ensure that inmates earn early release-- rather than be granted it automatically as a consequence of having served two-thirds of their sentences. The reforms will impose mandatory minimum sentences on serious offenders rather than allowing judges to send them back to the streets to continue accumulating more victims. Other bills would expand the sex offender registry so it actually accomplishes something. Anti-terrorism measures would be reaffirmed. And those convicted of serious drug crimes; the number one public safety concern of law-abiding citizens across the country, would receive automatic jail terms.

Are these measures going to cost? Absolutely.

Where would you see your tax dollars go? Building facilities to keep dangerous criminals off the streets or toward a bogus gun registry solely designed to demonize rural Canadians? Hiring more correctional officers to supervise the worst of the worst or handing paper bags of cash to Quebec ad agencies in return for kickbacks to the Liberal Party of Canada? Ensuring offenders serve the actual sentence handed down to them by the courts or giving the CBC even more funding to produce programs no one watches?

The one thing the soft-on-crime crowd just can't seem to wrap their pointy-heads around is the fact that when criminals are doing time, they're not doing crime. If there's a price tag to this--so be it.

That price tag, by the way, is not as straightforward as simply tallying the costs of constructing and running new prisons. An honest calculation, and don't hold your breath waiting for one from the critics, would include money saved by having fewer criminals on the street committing fewer crimes. Police and court costs, victims' financial and emotional suffering, insurance payouts, suppressed property values; all these must be taken into account alongside prison construction costs.

And it would be foolhardy to deny the silver lining of additional correctional facilities. The Fraser Valley has certainly done well over the decades with the concentration of correctional facilities in its backyard. It's unlikely anyone in these parts doesn't know someone working in the corrections system. Thousands of other local contractors and service providers owe all or part of their livelihood to this agency. Of course, this economic spin-off was also ignored in the fraudulent figures being recklessly thrown around to discredit the government's legislation.

No one said that significant and much needed criminal justice reforms weren't going to be expensive. But if public safety isn't worth the investment, I'd like to know what is.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2010