Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peter Van Loan Puts Public at Risk to Deflect Tory Incompetence

Despite all their bluster about being tough on crime, the Conservatives only adhere to the punishment side, without giving any thought to crime prevention, the courts, or the difficulty of overextending incarceration.

I know they are pandering to the private prison lobby and their 'law and order' base, but they have to stop and give their head a shake.

For once in their lives, they need to listen to those who will be affected the most from their lack of insight.

Peter Van Loan's recent announcement was no exception.

Experts douse Tory inmate crackdown plan
June 16th, 2009
Sue Bailey
Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The Harper government says it wants to increase victims' rights while getting tougher with inmates who break prison rules or violate parole conditions.

But critics say the latest move in the Tory law-and-order agenda would actually increase public risk in the long run.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said legislation proposed Tuesday would offer victims more information about inmate parole and rehabilitation.

If passed, the changes would also create new penalties for inmates who throw urine at guards or act out in other ways.

Police could also immediately arrest without a warrant any offender suspected of breaching release conditions.

Adam Boni of the Criminal Lawyers' Association warned the move would increase pressure on overstretched prisons that are already struggling to rehabilitate inmates.

"This government says society is safer as long as we can keep them locked up for as long as possible. In fact, what this approach does is create a powder keg in the federal penitentiary system.

"What it means is more over-crowding, more expense, less programs, less meaningful treatment. When these people are ultimately released ... they're going to be less equipped and less rehabilitated than they need to be. And we all suffer as a society."

Van Loan stressed that Ottawa has committed $479 million over five years to "set the foundation to strengthen the federal correctional system."

The federal government now spends more than $2 billion a year to oversee 13,500 inmates in 58 institutions. Another 8,000 prisoners are under varying degrees of supervision on the outside.

The majority, including sex offenders, never fully complete rehabilitation programs because of long waiting lists and frequent transfers, correctional investigator Howard Sapers told the Commons public safety committee this month.

However, inmates are routinely assessed upon arrival for mental health issues, Van Loan said. And programs to battle drug and alcohol abuse are being offered in the first 90 days of incarceration where none used to exist.

The minister conceded "there are real challenges" - including a chronic lack of psychologists and other specialists in prisons. Hiring and retention are ongoing issues in corrections as in the mainstream health system.

Sapers says many offenders are released without ever receiving recommended treatment due to lack of staff and resources.

Criminologists said Tory plans to curtail house arrest just as they increase minimum mandatory sentences for various crimes will only lock up more people with little or no effect on crime rates.

Van Loan has championed that approach and said there's more to come.

"We have a long-term commitment to work toward earned parole to replace statutory release," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly promised to scrap the automatic release of prisoners after serving two-thirds of their sentence in favour of "earned parole for behaviour and rehabilitation in prison."

Such a move is expected to vastly increase the amount of costly prison space needed.

Other changes proposed Tuesday to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act include:
-Informing victims about the reasons for offender transfers and giving advance notice where possible .
-Informing victims about inmate program participation and any serious discipline issues.
-Sharing the reasons for a temporary leave from a prison.

-Requiring inmates to respect other people and property; obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing release; and actively participate in fulfilling their rehabilitation plan.
-Enshrining in law a victim's already existing right to participate in parole board hearings.
-Emphasizing the importance of considering the seriousness of a crime in National Parole Board decision-making.

Sounds like a lot of bureaucracy with little meaningful results.

Of course they're bringing all of this out during the final days of the session, so they can accuse the Liberal senators of stonewalling. They always have an agenda.

Federal Liberals accused of being soft on crime
National Bureau
Sun Media
June 22, 2009

OTTAWA — Justice Minister Rob Nicholson accused the Liberals of being soft on crime Tuesday, saying the Senate is stalling legislation needed to protect Canadians.

“Liberal softness on crime is demonstrated again and again by gutting our crime legislation, tying it up in red tape and playing procedural games so that it never becomes law,” Nicholson said.

The Liberal majority in the Senate, however, says it won’t simply rubber stamp legislation and the Conservatives themselves are responsible for many of the delays.

“They want to appear to be tough on crime,” Senate Opposition Leader James Cowan said. “If they were really serious about this, they would have introduced these bills at the beginning of the session and processed them through the House and gotten them to us before the end of the session.”

The comments come after Nicholson complained to reporters that it was taking too long for crime legislation to be adopted and to urge Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to order Liberal senators to pass the bills before they leave this week for summer vacations.

Nicholson also singled out the Bloc Quebecois for blocking crime bills such as those that call for mandatory minimum sentences.

The Liberals, however, say Nicholson is being “disingenuous” and suggested he look to his Conservative colleagues in the Senate who have sometimes taken days or weeks before initiating debate on bills.

Some bills have taken a month or two to pass the House and now Nicholson wants them to pass the Senate in only two or three days, Cowan said.

“We’re not going to be pushed into doing that,” Cowan said, suggesting the Conservatives are trying to distract attention away from the economy and the isotope shortage.

“We’re taking our time to do what we are paid to do and that is to take a careful look at these.”

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