Mr. Speaker, it is with some degree of concern that I rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-9. I am concerned because the government's recent policy statements are aligning us increasingly on American policies and because prisons, which account for 25% of Quebec's spending on policing and criminal justice, do little to reduce crime overall.
According to a study by Pierre Lalande entitled “Punir ou réhabiliter les contrevenants?”, which discusses the merits of punishing versus rehabilitating offenders, mass incarceration does take a toll on the lives of those who are imprisoned and those around them. Some authors suggest that there are very well-documented categories of collateral effects of imprisonment.
First, there are various effects on the future lives of individuals who are incarcerated, in the sense that they will have a harder time finding work when they are released.
Then, there are effects on their physical and mental health, including psychological problems inherent in spending time inside, and risks associated with the numerous communicable diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, encountered in penal institutions.
With respect to family life, there are consequences on the relationship between spouses and consequences on the children.
The consequences on family, employment and income make the risk of reoffending high.
Finally, the community at large is made to suffer because of mass incarceration. Money is spent on that at the expense of higher education and other public programs and services, which could otherwise be much more extensive, thus countering poverty and giving people less of a reason to resort to petty theft to feed themselves and their children and put a roof over their heads. Add to that the problems experienced by prison staff.
In addition, there is a lot of research on the effectiveness of imprisonment to suggest that, upon release, offenders are just as likely to reoffend as they were when they arrived.
The conclusion is obvious: prisons do not ensure the rehabilitation of offenders. Some limited experiments have shown that carefully planned programs might reduce recidivism, provided that they address the situations and attitudes that have landed offenders in jail or prison in the first place.
In 2002-03, the average annual cost of detaining an individual in a provincial or territorial institution was $51,454, as compared to a mere $1,792 to monitor an offender within the community.
Conditional sentencing has a significant effect on the rate of fresh detentions, which have decreased by 13% since conditional sentencing came into effect. Thanks to this measure, some 55,000 fewer offenders were in custody. They were able to take part in rehabilitation programs.
According to a study on victims of crime and their attitude toward conditional sentencing this type of sentence had several advantages. Among other things, most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than in custody.
In my previous work, before I was a member of Parliament, I often dealt with people conditionally sentenced to do community work. This was always a success. Furthermore, most of these people did not go back to prison later.
Prison is no more effective a deterrent than more severe intermediate punishments, such as enhanced probation or home confinement. Keeping offenders in custody is significantly more expensive than supervising them in the community.
The public has become more supportive of community-based sentencing, except for serious crimes of violence. I can understand why. The Bloc Québécois has always been an advocate for victims of serious crimes of violence.
Widespread interest in restorative justice has sparked interest in community-based sanctions. Restorative justice initiatives seek to promote the interests of the victim at all stages of the criminal justice process, but particularly at the sentencing stage.
The virtues of community-based sanctions include the saving of valuable correctional resources and the ability of the offender to continue or seek employment and maintain ties with his or her family. After having been incarcerated in their youth and receiving a prison sentence, it is very difficult for persons to find work when they leave prison when they have no work experience and have problems as a result of a troubled childhood. If, however, they have had access to rehabilitation programs, it is much easier because they have already gained some work experience in the community.
David Paciocco, who is a criminal law professor at the University of Ottawa, said:
It is inconceivable to think that all the offences that lead to a 10-year sentence or more are invariably serious offences in every concrete case.
He added that preventing the use of conditional sentences for all such offences would not only send many people to prison who do not belong there, but it would also likely lead judges and lawyers to find ways to get around the restriction. Judges could increase the requirements in terms of evidence of guilt, while prosecutors could lay less serious charges in order to leave the option of a conditional sentence.
Furthermore, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, Mike Dunphy, said that 33% of the criminals sentenced to house arrest in 2005 would have ended up in prison under the provisions of Bill C-9. Thus, prisons would need 33% more beds, employees and programs to serve the inmates.
At this time, conditional sentences are often longer than prison sentences. When prisoners are released early on parole, they move freely in the community under conditions that are less rigorous than if they were under house arrest.
Offenders also have a better chance if they are reintegrated into the community by living at home under strict conditions rather than languishing in prisons, exposed to the influence of other criminals. Long periods in prison without other rehabilitation programs tend to increase the risk of recidivism after release.
Moreover, the cost of prolonged incarceration would invariably lead to cuts in social services, educational services and employment opportunities.
The United States punishes its criminals more severely than Canada, yet its crime rate is five times higher than here.
Since the victims of violence are always at the core of our concerns and given that the Bloc Québécois has always defended the importance of taking them into consideration, especially when it comes to setting parole conditions, if Bill C-9 had been reasonable and had limited its effect to excluding the more violent crimes that are not already excluded, such as kidnapping a person under age 14, sexual assault with a weapon or aggravated sexual assault, rather than drawing up an arbitrary, endless list of offences, the Bloc Québécois would have undoubtedly supported such a bill. However, in its current form, we will vote against this bill.