If you took the entire population of St. John’s and put us all into jail, you’d still only have about two-thirds of the number of people who are in jail in the state of California.
The US Supreme Court has just ruled that California's prison conditions are so bad that they violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In some cases, mentally ill prisoners are being housed (if you can use that word) in wire cages about the same size as the old telephone booths that you don’t see much anymore. So much for the enlightened society.
Here in Canada, we’re getting closer and closer to the notion of the mega-prisons that have become staples in the American justice diet. Many of them are run by private, for-profit companies.
With the new majority government, the Conservatives in Ottawa are moving ahead with their omnibus crime bill. Among other things, it will usher in new mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — growing five marijuana plants to sell the drug would automatically bring six months in jail.
There are other changes that will mean new jail time or increased jail time for similar offences. House arrest will no longer be a sentencing option for the courts in what are being described as “serious crimes”. Serious is a pretty broad word since five marijuana plants will now earn you six months in jail. I can only imagine what would have happened to “Mary” a former student of mine who used to shoplift Midol because she couldn’t afford to buy it to deal with monthly cramps.
Correctional Service Canada says existing legislation translates to a need for 2,700 new spaces at a cost of $2-billion. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page thinks that number is more like 4,200 prisoners at a total cost of closer to $5-billion — raising annual prison expenditure to $9.3-billion by 2015-2016.
It will be interesting to see the sweetheart deals the Tories arrange for their cronies to build those prisons and possibly operate them. We know it will happen - the big question is who will get the kickbacks. Maybe envelopes of cash?