U.S. Phases Out Tough on Crime: Canada Sticks to Its Guns

A recent report out of Washington indicates that as Canada is bringing in stricter sentencing laws at the same time as the tough-on-crime agenda is easing up in the United States. Despite the auditor general Michael Ferguson’s warning that Canadian prisons are increasingly overcrowded. Ferguson reported that half of Canada’s federal penitentiaries were already running at, or above, their rated capacities.

A recent report out of Washington indicates that as Canada is bringing in stricter sentencing laws at the same time as the tough-on-crime agenda is easing up in the United States. Despite the auditor general Michael Ferguson’s warning that Canadian prisons are increasingly overcrowded. Ferguson reported that half of Canada’s federal penitentiaries were already running at, or above, their rated capacities.

As Canada adds mandatory minimum sentences to its Criminal Code, the U.S. study recommends doing away with them. Canada is encouraged to steer clear of the former U.S. incarceration model.

In recent decades the U.S has been the uncontested world leader in incarceration with more than two million prisoners, or one-quarter of the entire international total.

It was largely the result of stiffer drug laws that caused the swelling of the U.S. prison population. The National Research Council study accounts for how drug laws turned the U.S. from a country with normal international incarceration levels to a country with imprisonment rates six times higher than Canada’s.

A possible explanation for the change in the U.S. tough on crime position is the cost of maintain the prison infrastructure. Corrections spending increased from 1.9 per cent to 3.3 per cent of state budgets since 1985, rising from US$6.7 billion to $53.2 billion. The combined corrections spending increased by just over 400 per cent, while the number of prisoners increased by 475 per cent, after adjusted for inflation

A number of reforms have been brought forward, including better legal aid, and letting the defence have the closing comments during the court cases. It has also been suggested prison sentences for non-violent people should be reduced or eliminated.

Granted the severity of punishment in Canada is still less severe than the U.S. Consider that in Canada, the mandatory minimum sentence for cocaine trafficking is one to two years: and that only applies if the crime was committed as gang or near a school. Yet in the U.S., carrying five kilos of cocaine is an automatic 10 years to life in prison for a first offence, and 20 years to life for a second offence.

The new attitude is that government needs to focus their efforts on treating people who use illegal drugs: instead if incarcerating them.

Meanwhile, Canada is steadily increasing their prison population. There has been a seven per cent increase in incarceration rates since 2009, and the projections indicate that this growth rate will continue in the coming years.

The Canadian government says it’s committed to the tougher approach. Although in an email from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, he wrote: “Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime.”

If you have been charged with a drug related offence, contact the criminal lawyers at Haryett & Company. to get the legal defence you need to stay out of the Canadian prison system.

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