Federal crime bills swelling Alberta jail population

23% increase in inmate count forecast over next five years, says Alberta's solicitor general.

Edmonton (7 Oct. 2010) - The inmate population in Alberta jails will swell by 23% over the next five years as a result of tougher crime and sentencing laws imposed by the Harper government in Ottawa, says a new Alberta government report.

Jim Cook, a director with the provincial solicitor general's department, says the jail population could climb even higher if the federal Conservatives push ahead with further Criminal Code changes, including prohibiting conditional sentences for certain crimes.

"The conditional sentence population is out in the community, under supervision by probation officers," Cook told the Calgary Herald.

"Further restrictions to the conditional sentence of imprisonment will certainly contribute to the growth in the inmate population."

Most of these offenders would end up in provincial facilities, not in federal prisons, which house inmates with sentences longer than two years.

While the number of inmates serving provincial sentences has grown, Alberta's remand population - people in provincial custody waiting to face trial - has expanded at a greater pace.

People awaiting trial comprised 58% of the province's inmate population last year, a figure that troubles the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association (CTLA).

"The increases are alarming," says CTLA president Deborah Hatch, referring to Alberta's overall inmate growth.

"More than half of those who are in prison in this province are in remand facilities," Hatch added. "They are people who are presumed innocent."

The Herald says Alberta has been straining for some time with overcrowded jails. The number of adult inmates has climbed 58% since 2000 from an average of 1,842 annually to 2,907 last year.

That figure is expected to swell 23% by 2015, the new annual report of the solicitor general notes. This would raise the inmate population to roughly 3,600 men and women.

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More information:
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