GNWT estimates crime bill costs manageable

GNWT estimates crime bill costs manageable

As costs of the federal omnibus crime Bill C-10 start coming down the pipe for provinces and territories, a GNWT analysis estimates tens of thousands per year will be incurred in additional expenses in the short term, based on increased numbers of inmates with longer sentences.

The GNWT’s technical report analyzing the bill’s impacts on the department of Justice was tabled at the end of May, outlining projected impacts on adult and youth corrections, and the justice system as a whole.

Based on data from 2004-2011, the department estimates new restrictions on granting conditional sentences, as well as new mandatory minimum sentences for drug and sexual offences against children, will mean nearly 4,000 additional bed-days per year for the territory’s correctional facilities – equivalent to approximately 11 extra offenders per year in the first year, or $53,500 in additional annual costs to the territory.

Though the GNWT says there is currently capacity for additional inmates in the short term, the territory will likely be forced to increase infrastructure either by renovating the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre or adding on to the North Slave Correctional Centre at an approximate cost of $32 million, not counting the need for additional staff.

Justice deputy minister Bronwyn Watters told The Journal the government hopes to avoid such capital expenditures by working on crime prevention programs and diversion initiatives that would see less individuals in correctional facilities.

“I think we are all hoping that there won’t be that kind of an increase. One of our priorities is crime prevention, so obviously we are looking to keep people out of the system rather than simply expanding the system to accommodate more,” she said. “But if we need to find additional funding for other major capital, then, yes, we are going to be competing with all the other needs in the territory for capital structures.”

The report indicates that should the territory’s prisons reach maximum capacity, ultimately, the NWT would restrict inmates from other jurisdictions, specifically Nunavut. Watters said looking to other jurisdictions to hold NWT inmates is also an option, but given that C-10 will be felt across the country, she said she’d be surprised if there will be surplus space available anywhere.

Watters said the department is working on a safety strategy with NWT communities to develop locally-specific initiatives, as well as preliminary efforts with other departments, such as Health and Social Services, to develop an alternative wellness court that would divert people from correctional facilities or the justice system altogether.

On the youth side, the report had fewer details, but estimated more youth will be held in pre-trial detention and sentenced to custody under C-10 than before. More male youth could push girls out of the facility, meaning renovations to the $35-million Fort Smith women and girls’ facility – which has been on the books for several years – will most likely be required sooner.

Further costs to the territory are expected to include additional court sittings, increased court travel, increased support for victims of crime and an increased demand on the territory’s legal aid program. Those varied costs are too difficult to estimate right now, Watters said.

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