Post # 180
960 words; 4 minutes to read
Audio summary courtesy of volunteer Averi Brailey.
Public Safety Canada annually produces The Corrections and Conditional Release Overview (CCRSO), one of the better regular sources of data about criminal justice in Canada – a field where our data are generally quite weak.
We posted about a previous version of this document nearly two years ago, in January, 2020.
The CCRSO report is opportunistic in that it covers areas where data already exist rather than starting with what the important questions might be. Also, the report provides no analysis and no connection to related research. Nonetheless, it provides annual data on some important issues, including crimes, sentences, incarceration rates, and parole. A few areas of interest are noted here.
– Police-reported crime rates in Canada dropped by 16% from 2009 to 2018, though have been roughly flat in the last 3-4 years. The violent crime rate has dropped by 14% since 2009, keeping in mind that what is counted as a ‘violent’ crime in Canada may not involve any actual physical or mental violence. Crimes defined as violent account for only about 1 in 5 crimes in total.
– While crime rates were down a lot, the rate of adults charged dropped by much less – by 10% overall since 2009. The number of people in jail has dropped even less than that. So relative to the number of crimes, more people are being charged and more people are being jailed. This discrepancy is due to crimes other than property, drugs or violent crimes – what is called ‘Other Criminal Code’. which includes
Administration of justice charges
– Administration of justice offenses alone account for 21% of all criminal cases, double the number of any other category such as theft or impaired driving. These offenses often involve matters that would not be a crime for most people such as breaking a curfew or consuming alcohol while on bail or parole. Many analysts have argued that creating so many administration of justice offenses is a major reason that the courts are clogged and legal processes are so slow. As well, such charges are often used against marginalized and minority populations.
– Rates of youth charged with crimes have dropped by nearly 50% since 2009, showing that it is possible to divert large numbers of people from the criminal justice system, with huge positive consequences and no threat to public safety.
– Quebec had the lowest crime rate among provinces in 2018, followed by Ontario. Reported crime rates on the prairies are 2-3 times as high and in the Territories 5-10 times as high.
– The crimes most reported in the media are quite rare. For example sexual assault of all kinds is less than 1% of reported crime, and homicide or attempted murder accounts for about 500 cases per year out of more than 300,000 overall criminal cases.
– Canada’s incarceration rate, at 114 per 100,000 population, is one of the highest among rich countries, lower than the US, Britain or Australia but higher than all of western Europe, and about double that of the Nordic countries. Canada’s incarceration rate has decreased a little, by more than 8% since 2011.
– Over half of all custodial sentences imposed by adult criminal courts are one month or less. Only 3.5% of sentences (for men, and 2% for women) are served in federal prison (sentences over two years). One wonders what positive effect can come from so many short sentences.
While crime, arrests, and imprisonment have all fallen in recent years, real expenditures on prisons and jails are increasing. The federal government spent $2.6 billion on corrections in 2018, up 20% since 2009.
For provinces, spending on jails is nearly as much – $2.55 billion, up more than 46% in real terms since 2009. This is especially chilling because most of the people in provincial jails have not even been convicted.
As a result, the average daily cost per federal prisoner had increased by 2018 to $344 per day, or $10000 per month, or more than $125,000 per year. This is far above the cost of sending someone to the most elite university, and 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 is about $33,000 per year. And the cost for people who are off parole is virtually zero.
In Canada on a given day about 14,000 people are in federal prisons and about 9000 more on parole.
The federal prisoner population is about 25% people serving 2 to 3 years and one quarter people serving life. One quarter are over 50 years of age.
In the ten years between 2008 and 2018 nearly 1000 people died in federal or provincial custody, about 60% in the federal system. Suicide rates in jails and prisons are 5 times higher than in the general community.
The Correctional Service of Canada has more than 17,000 staff. More than 7000 are guards in prisons whereas 1500 people cover all aspects of community corrections (i.e. parole), fewer than 2000 do health care or programming in the prisons, and nearly 4000 classified as ‘administration’.
More than one quarter of the prisoner population is Indigenous, a proportion that has been rising steadily for many years despite constant promises to reduce it. 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,
Parole rates are increasing in the federal system but are still low. Nearly 60% of federal prisoners are not given parole. And those who are often have to wait months and sometimes years past their first parole eligibility.
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.
In short, these data suggest that in Canada we lock too many people up, keep them locked up for too long, and spend far too much money on incarceration.