Longer sentences touted as deterrents

Ottawa bureau chief

LÉVIS, QUE.–Ottawa’s push for longer jail terms will not result in overcrowded prisons or ballooning corrections costs, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says.

Day said yesterday he’s confident Canada can implement new mandatory jail terms for serious crimes and still avoid the U.S. example of having those new sentences cause a dramatic increase in the prison population.

“The course that we are taking in terms of criminal justice reform and corrections reform is not reflective of what happens in the United States at all,” the minister said during a Conservative caucus meeting.

A recent Toronto Star series, titled Crime and Punishment, raised questions about the effectiveness of longer mandatory minimum sentences.

The series profiled several U.S. jurisdictions, suggesting that mandatory minimums result in prison overcrowding and soaring correctional costs while doing little to cut crime.

But Day is betting that the longer sentences for drug and gun offences will deter people from committing the crime in the first place.

“Once you send out a message that you are becoming serious … that alone starts to have a deterring effect on those who looking at the risk/reward equation in terms of getting into crime,” Day said.

In fact, Day said the government’s new sentences for gun crimes, which kicked in May 1, have already had an effect.

“We heard from people who are involved in the criminal community that they were having second thoughts … about the illegal business they were going to conduct and using firearms at the same time,” Day said.

While there might be a short-term “blip” as a result of the tougher sentences, the “long-term effect is deterrence and that’s difficult to put into the equation,” he said.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he’s been assured by his provincial counterparts that “the resources are available” to cope with any increase in inmates as a result of the new sentences.

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