B.C. quiet on prison costs

Federal crime bill will put more inmates in prisons.

The omnibus crime bill is expected to increase the inmate populations in provincial jails. B.C. however has been mum on how much it will cost taxpayers.

The omnibus crime bill is expected to increase the inmate populations in provincial jails. B.C. however has been mum on how much it will cost taxpayers.

Taxpayers in Maple Ridge are being kept in the dark about how much it will cost the province to implement new federal crime legislation at two local prisons.

A freedom of information request, asking about costs and the impact the Conservatives crime bills (C-10, C-16 and C-25) will have on the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre and Alouette Correction Centre for Women, is sparse on details.

The government released 16 pages of internal documents about the new legislation, including emails, briefings and memos.

The documents refer to the cost of housing more prisoners, but all figures have been deleted from the documents, leaving large sections blank.

The document mentions that Bill C- 25, The Truth in Sentencing Act, eliminates two-for-one credit, will increase provincial custody by 57 per cent.

“It’s ridiculous that taxpayers are being kept in the dark,” said NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan.

The NDP has submitted several freedom of information requests for similar information, but has also received responses with hundreds of pages redacted.

“From our perspective, they have either done the work and they don’t want B.C. taxpayers to know the real costs of Bill C-10, or they haven’t done the work and they are playing catch up,” Corrigan added.

Ontario estimates the changes will costs that province $1 billion, while Quebec pegs its cost at $600 million.

A report, released in February by the federal budget watchdog Kevin Page, estimates that scrapping house arrest could come with an annual price tag of $145 million, with provinces bearing the bulk of the costs.

Corrigan said the costs of the omnibus crime bill were also not included in the 2012 provincial budget.

“It’s always imperative that government be prudent and cost out what they’ve been planning,” said Corrigan. “They’ve been terrible money managers and they are trying to convince people otherwise. It is about delay until they get into election mode because they don’t want to let people know what’s going on.”

The province, however, insists taxpayers won’t be surprised or suddenly saddled with a multi-million dollar bill as more criminals head to prison.

Liberal MLA Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) points out a number of factors make it “challenging” to estimate costs, including the provincial crime rate, which has dropped 33 per cent over the past six years.

“The number of people and inmates in prison right now has also gone down,” said Dalton, although he could not say whether the decrease in inmates will make enough room to house the increase in incarcerations expected as a result of the omnibus crime bill.

B.C.’s current inmate count is 22,950 – down from around 24,000 in 2011.

Dalton added costs will also be affected by judicial behaviour and the number of police and arrests.

“We are putting the money in right now,” he said. “It’s for the safety of people. We’ve had our challenges in B.C. Just read the news. It’s for our residents to feel safe and secure. This bill was a response to the outcry of British Columbians. B.C. does support the passage of the omnibus bill and the federal government’s commitment to tackling crime and improving safety.”

The province is currently in the midst of a $185 million capital expansion of prisons, which includes a 20-cell expansion for women at Prince George Regional Correctional Centre (which opened in Dec. 2010); 104 cells at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge (set to open sometime this year); and 216 cells at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre (scheduled to open in 2013).

As for the blanked out figures in the freedom of information response, Dalton said withholding the information is necessary.

“There are limitations and constraints, and because of the federal copyright act, we can only release certain information,” he said.

Documents:

FOI – Omnibus crime bill costs on Maple Ridge provincial prisons

Maple Ridge News