Tough on crime policies are really just dumb on crime

A new report by the Public Services Foundation of Canada shows that our provincial jails are chronically overcrowded, with terrible consequences for all of us


Ottawa (4 May 2015) — We all want to reduce crime in our communities. But our federal and provincial politicians are choosing policies that aren’t reducing crime and are costing us more than they have to.

In other words, tough-on-crime policies are actually dumb on crime. And a new report called Crisis in Correctional Services by the Public Services Foundation of Canada (PSFC) shows just how dumb these policies can be.

In short, the federal government is forcing us to lock up more people for longer, pushing our provincial jails into an overcrowding crisis that stretches from coast to coast to coast.

Tough-on-crime policies cost us more, don't reduce crime

These policies are costing us more than they need to, and they're increasing the number of repeat criminals. According to the federal government’s own research, the longer people spend in jail, the  more likely they’ll go on to commit further crimes.

There is no evidence that longer sentences make our communities safer.

But in the PSFC report, there is plenty of evidence that tough-on-crime policies are making our jails more dangerous for inmates and staff.

Jailing those with mental illness is inhumane

Worse, these policies are making them more dangerous for the rising number of people who are in jail because they are suffering mental illness. A British Columbia study found that half of its inmates suffer mental illness or addiction. It’s inhumane, and it’s happening coast to coast to coast.

Putting the mentally ill in jail also means our jails are becoming even more crowded.

In British Columbia and Saskatchewan, jails are at 140 per cent capacity. In Manitoba and Quebec, they’re at 120 per cent capacity. In Ontario and Nova Scotia, prisons are so crowded, they’re now putting two and even three inmates into cells designed for one.

Overcrowded jails are more dangerous for inmates and staff and, ultimately, for the communities to which the inmates will eventually return.

44 per cent jump in gang members

Living in violent jails, inmates become even more violent themselves. Federal prisons have seen a 44 per cent jump in gang members over the past five years, and it’s a similar story in provincial jails.

And for all this, we’re paying more money. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that it will cost billions to provide the extra facilities needed for the Conservatives' tough-on-crime policies: at least $1.8 billion for the federal government and more than $6 billion for the provinces.

It’s OK to be afraid of crime. But right now, we’re spending too much money on policies that aren’t actually making us safer from crime. We can do better.

In solidarity, 

James Clancy
NUPGE National President


James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE