Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The End of 2-for-1 Credit and the Fallacy of 'Getting Tough'

The March 8th 2010 issue of Maclean’s, “Canada’s magazine”, has this to say about the elimination of two-for-one credit for pre-sentence custody:
Do the time

“It seems like a no-brainer: convicted criminals shouldn’t get a break for prison time served prior to court dates. And yet, it’s taken four years for the federal government to enact legislation ending two-for-one jail credits. As the old saying goes: you do the crime, you do the time—the whole time, not just half. Convicted criminals have been gifted shorter sentences by the justice system for too long. It’s time to get tough.”

Fortunately, old sayings do not figure among our sentencing principles. The objectives of our sentencing regime are enumerated at section 718 of the Criminal Code, and they are as follows:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

Parliament enacted those objectives to guide the courts in fashioning sentences that are just and appropriate to the circumstances of each case. By looking beyond the obtuse imperative to “get tough”, a judge can craft a sentence that neither threatens the safety and security of the public nor condemns the offender to a lifelong cycle of recidivism.

Equitable and progressive though they might be, however, Parliament’s sentencing principles do not take into account the backlog that plagues the criminal justice system. Too often, prisoners languish in dangerous, dirty, overcrowded jails for weeks and months before their cases can be heard.

It was this dubious “gift” that the two-for-one sentencing regime was meant to address: the policy acknowledged that outrageous pre-sentence delays, coupled with deplorable conditions in some Canadian prisons, resulted in suffering that our sentencing provisions did not countenance. Moreover, this hardship is utterly preventable, but for a lack of public or political will. (As ever, “get tough” is a politically unassailable stance.)

To be sure, giving double credit was a bandage on the problem, not a curative. Jail conditions remain execrable, and the Attorney General’s “Justice on Target” initiative has only just begun to rein in administrative delay. But instead of curing these ills, the government has decided to rip off the bandage.

In that respect, Maclean’s is right: it’s a no-brainer.

1 comment:

Devin Johnston said...

Hear, hear! The government's policy objectives in eliminating the 2-for-1 credit and instituting mandatory minimum sentences are dubious at best and political pandering at worst. These policies do not reduce recidivism and do not protect the public.

In any event, if judges can't overtly use 2-for-1, they will just adjust the resulting sentence accordingly without mentioning that 2-for-1 is effectively what they are doing.