900 words; 4 minute read.
The annual performance monitoring report of the Parole Board of Canada is one of the best regular sources of data about criminal justice in Canada – a field where our data are generally quite weak.
The Corrections and Conditional Release Overview (CCRSO) provides annual data on crimes, sentences, incarceration rates, and the jail/prison system.
The report is opportunistic in that it based on existing administrative data, so it covers only areas where data exist rather than starting with what the important questions might be. Also, the report provides only data with no analysis and no connection to related research.
In this post we report some of the interesting pieces of information in the 2018 report (which came out in 2019). These provide a very different picture than one would get through our mass media.
– Police-reported crime rates in Canada dropped by 36% from 1998 to 2017, though have been roughly flat in the last 3-4 years. The violent crime rate has dropped by 26% since 2000. But drug crime rates have risen. At the same time, violent crime accounts for only about 1 in 6 crimes in total.
– But while crime rates were down a lot, arrests were down much less – by 16% overall and 10% for violent crimes. And the number of people in jail has dropped even less than that. So relative to crime, more people are being charged and jailed.
– Rates of youth charged with crimes have dropped much more, by about 50% in the last 20 years. The Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003 had a large impact but the rate has continued to drop since then.
– Ontario has the lowest crime rate, then Quebec. Rates on the prairies are 2-3 times as high and rates in the Territories are 5-10 times as high.
– Administration of justice offenses account for 23% of all criminal cases, double the number of any other category such as theft or impaired driving. Many experts consider these often to be non-crimes.
– The crimes most reported in the media are quite rare. For example sexual assault is less than 1% of reported crime, and homicide or attempted murder accounts for about 400-500 cases per year out of 80,000 overall criminal cases. Many people thus have a completely distorted picture of crime, which helps fuel bad policy.
– Canada’s incarceration rate, at 114 per 100,000 population, is one of the highest in the ‘developed’ world, lower than the US, Britain or Australia but higher or much higher than all of western Europe.
– Over half of all custodial sentences imposed by adult criminal courts are one month or less. Only 3% are served in federal prison (sentences over two years).
The federal government spent $2.4 billion on corrections in 2018, up 20% over the last 12 years even as crime was falling steadily.
For provinces, spending is even more – $2.45 billion, up nearly 50% over the same period. And especially chilling because the largest share of the provincial costs are to keep in jail people who have not been convicted.
As a result, the average daily cost per prisoner has increased nearly $320 per day, or $9000 per month, or more than $115,000 per year. This is far above the cost of sending someone to the most elite university. Or more than buying someone a new luxury car every year. It’s about 60% above the average family income in Canada.
Meanwhile, the cost of supervising someone on parole in the community is about $30,000 per year. And the cost for people who are off parole is virtually zero.
CSC supervises about 14,000 people in prisons and about 9000 on parole. Of course many thousands more who were prisoners are off parole and no longer under CSC supervision.
CSC’s has nearly 17000 staff. More than 7000 are guards in prisons vs 1400 who cover all aspects of community corrections (i.e. parole), fewer than 2000 who do health care or programming in the prisons, and nearly 4000 doing ‘administration’.
The federal prison population has declined by about 8%, or 1300, in the last 5 years. However provincial jail populations have increased, with the entire increase in those held on remand. And admissions of women to federal prison are substantially higher in the last 5 years than they were in the 5 years before.
The federal prisoner population is about one quarter people serving 2 to 3 years and one quarter people serving life. Also one quarter are over 50 years of age.
More than one quarter of the prisoner population is Indigenous, a proportion that has been rising steadily. The disproportion is even greater for women. More of the Indigenous group is in custody rather than in the community. Indigenous prisoners are more likely to be in higher security institutions, and less likely to be paroled,
Though the report does not provide data on visible minorities, there is considerable evidence that the same biases exist for Black prisoners.
Large numbers of people die while in custody. More than 900 people died in custody in the last 10 years, about 60% in the federal system. More than ¾ of these deaths are listed as neither homicide nor suicide.
Parole is still quite rare in the provincial system, with only about 1000 cases per year.
Parole rates are increasing in the federal system but are still low. Most (60%) prisoners are held until statutory release. Relatively few prisoners are granted parole near their first eligibility date, with most held at least several months and often many years past that. Indigenous prisoners serve even longer on average.
More than 95% of paroles end without another criminal charge. Moreover, 75% of judicial reviews of parole decisions support earlier parole. All this suggests that there should be more and earlier parole.