By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director
As part of its vow to be “tough on crime,” the federal government is planning to table legislation to make the penalty for certain crimes incarceration for life without the possibility of parole. While it might sound logical at first blush, there are four big problems with this:
It won’t change anything about the length of time dangerous offenders spend in prison
Today, people with life sentences have the chance of parole after 25, 50 or 75 years. That word chance is really important. It doesn’t mean it will happen, just that it could, if the parole board is convinced the inmate is is no longer a threat to society.
Some inmates are unlikely to live long enough to reach their possible parole date. Take 24-year-old Justin Bourque, killer of the Moncton Mounties as an example. He is eligible for parole in 75 years. How many 99-year-olds do you know? How many murderers have you heard of that are 99 or older? In the event he lives to see 100 or more, keeping him incarcerated isn’t going to enhance public safety, but it will cost taxpayers.
Even for life-sentence offenders with earlier parole eligibility, if they are believed to be a danger to the public, they will not be released.
It would further marginalize the poor, addicts and those with mental health issues
A significant proportion of inmates suffer from mental illness and addiction, both of which can lead to actions a person would not normally take. Poverty can lead to desperate acts that go very wrong. In these cases, treatment and rehabilitation is arguably a far more just route than throwing sufferers behind bars and tossing away the key.
It removes incentive for the inmate to change and amounts to death by incarceration
Picture an 18-year-old raised in poverty, without a stable home or parental guidance, swept up in a gang, being convinced to rob a convenience store and someone dies. With the new legislation, that teen’s life would be over. Today, there is the chance that by late middle age, they might have the opportunity to try and build a positive future.
There are those who say the victim won’t get another chance so why should a killer? The answer lies in whether we want to remain a nation that rehabilitates or whether we want to seek vengeance—no matter the cost to society. Those paroled after murder have very low recidivism rates, so to keep them behind bars until death merely destroys more lives and costs taxpayers money that could be better spent on creating stronger communities.
It will cost taxpayers a fortune that could be much better spent
At EFry, we recognize some people don’t see offenders worth helping. They want them to stay in prison. To those people, we ask – do you want to pay to keep people unlikely to re-offend in prison until they die? Is it worth between $140,000 and $150,000 of your dollars every year to confine a man and $200,000 to confine a woman? Or would you rather spent $30,000 to have them monitored in the community and the remainder of that money funnelled into things like improved mental health support, education, job creation or a host of other things that can benefit society?
There are only so many taxpayer dollars. Do you want them used to build stronger, healthier communities or do you want spend them on building more prisons and keeping people unlikely to reoffend locked up?