The Edmonton Max prison
Credits: AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN FILE
Friday Aug. 10th is Prisoners' Rights Day in Canada. But before we start celebrating this auspicious event, here's a little fact to keep in mind: Very few Canadian criminals ever serve any significant time in jail. And fewer still go to prison.
Canadian police may lay charges in more than 350,000 criminal cases a year, but Crown attorneys then bargain away the most serious charges and judges let the poor dears off with time-served or, increasingly, no time at all.
It's even worse among young offenders. When the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) replaced the much discredited Young Offenders Act in 2003, the Liberal government of the day led Canadians to believe that the YCJA was a toughening of the laws governing under-aged criminals. In fact, the bill was the exact opposite.
For nearly a decade now, it has been the law of the land that juvenile delinquents (who for politically correct reasons we mustn't call juvenile delinquents) should never even be charged for the crimes they commit, if at all possible.
Now if some young thief or vandal will agree to apologize for his or her act and compensate the victims, police are required not to lay charges.
The thinking behind this is that charges might scar the poor, misguided youths for life. But given that youth crime is the one category of crime that is rising in Canada - especially violent youth crime - it's fair to conclude that young offenders have seen through the sociological theory and learned quickly there are few consequences when they commit crimes. So why stop?
Adult career criminals have figured this out, too. They also know that there is likely to be little punishment for their stealing, robbing, assaulting and even murder.
And don't think that doesn't encourage their criminal behaviour.
Did you know it is standard practice among Canadian judges to discount time served by an accused before trial by a factor of three-to-one when passing sentence? That means if you are in a remand centre for a month before your trial and you are eventually found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison, you get to go free on your trial date because you get three months credit for the one month you served beforehand.
Ordinary Canadians might not know about that rule, but I guarantee you criminals have it figured out.
The federal Conservative government is trying to do something about the leniency inherent in our criminal justice system.
They want to build more prisons so more violent adult offenders will spend more time - any time - behind bars. They want to make sure that criminals convicted of a third criminal offense are automatically designated as dangerous offenders and sent to prison indefinitely.
And on the young offender file, the Tories want to make it slightly easier for judges to order violent young offenders detained in custody until their trials. Right now, the Youth Criminal Justice Act compels judges to release nearly all accused young offenders - even those charged with serious violent offences such as drug dealing, sexual assault and armed robbery - until their trials. The concern among those who drafted the YCJA was that forcing young criminals to spend even a little time in incarceration while waiting for their cases to be heard might turn them into hardened criminals.
Here is one other fact to keep in mind about prisons in Canada: Despite the mewling and moaning of most criminologist and other experts about the Tories' desire to build more of them, under 1% of those charged with criminal offenses in Canada each year will ever spend time in federal jails - less than 1%!
Happy Prisoner's Rights Eve.