American Justice Stakes Claim In Canada
On July 3, 2012, 2:58 PM by Dakota Smith
In a time of historically low crime, Harper’s conservative government has pushed through a strict anti-crime bill. Is this the result of American private prison lobbying?
Things have always seemed a bit ‘different’ in Canada. In a world increasingly defined by violence, Canada’s crime rate has actually fallen to its lowest level since 1973 and homicide rates have not been lower since 1966. Why, then, has crime been placed at the center of the Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s agenda? The answer could very well be due to the influx of lobbyist money to Ottawa from American private prison operators.
In March 2012, the Tories were able to use their parliamentary majority to pass the controversial Safe Streets and Communities Act or Bill C-10. This omnibus crime bill is composed of several other bills that failed to pass Parliament when conservatives comprised only a minority government. The lengthy bill promises the wholesale transformation of the Canadian justice system.
The Conservative Party has labeled the bill as necessary to combat drug crimes, out-of-control youth and sexual predators. However, a host of critics have decried the bill as draconian, costly and retrograde, as they believe it will result in a large-scale increase in Canada’s prison population. The reformations introduced by Bill C-10 include mandatory minimum jail sentences for some crimes, fewer conditional sentences – such as house arrest – and heavier sentences for youth offenders.
American policy experts have warned Canada about the dangers of implementing these “failed policies” which have proven ineffective in the United States. “If passed, C-10 will take Canadian justice policies 180-degrees in the wrong direction, and Canadian citizens will bear the costs,” said Tracy Velazquez, director of the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute in the months before the bill’s passing.
Further advice against Bill C-10 has even come from another, more unexpected, place: Texas. Even though it is widely regarded as one of the toughest criminal jurisdictions in the world, opinions of Bill C-10 in the state’s political circles are surprisingly more in line with the Justice Policy Institute than with Stephen Harper. For years Texas maintained tough-on-crime policies, but the results were less than stellar. Texas was left with the world’s highest incarceration rate, a budget crisis and a hefty prison bill of $2 billion.
Texas reversed course. The state invested more money into prevention and rehabilitation and reformed its juvenile corrections system.
CBC News took the time to travel to Texas, where they asked Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court to express his opinion on the problems with Bill C-10. His response? “Nothing, if you don’t mind spending a lot of money locking people up and seeing your crime rate go up! Nothing wrong with it at all!”
Maybe Harper and his fellow conservatives should heed Creuzot’s advice. While the Canadian government optimistically projects the burden to the federal government at $78.6 million over five years, many provinces have warned that the costs could easily spiral out of control.
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