Prison Costs – 20 September 2013

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Prose
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Cost to the Public for Keeping a Person in Jail

Canadian statistics from 2006 show an average of 110 persons per 100,000 population are in prison. The United States average is 738 per 100,000. On any given day, approximately 35,000 adults are locked-up in Canadian jails, giving us one of the highest incarceration rates among western industrialized countries.

Another 120,000 are under supervision in the community. Studies show that putting criminals in jail protects the public, but it does not prevent crime. Recidivism rates are estimated at between 50 per cent and 80 per cent.

There are approximately 190 prisons and jails across Canada. Seventy-six are under federal supervision and the provinces and territories look after 114. British Columbia has nine prisons. Persons serving a sentence of more than two years are sent to a federal prison. Those serving less than two years go to provincial jails.

Correctional services cost taxpayers close to three billion dollars a year. If you include policing and court costs, the total would be approximately $10 billion.

It costs $88,000 a year to keep a male in federal prisons, but only $55,000 to keep the same person in a provincial jail.

There are approximately 40,000 youth custody admissions. Youth custody is not reported in all provinces and current statistics are unavailable. Many are in deferred or open custody.

In 1996, courts were given the option to impose conditional sentences served in the community. The cost to the public ranges from $5 to $25 per day. Many citizens oppose conditional sentences and express outrage when a judge allows a convicted person to stay at home instead of going to prison. Hardened criminals and repeat offenders should not qualify for conditional sentences.

However, I have slowly come to accept conditional sentencing for certain offenders. Those sent to prison associate with hardened convicts. They learn how to be better criminals and are exposed to drugs, needle sharing, HIV and AIDS. Some are brutalized by other inmates. Our current prison system with overcrowding and other problems makes rehabilitation difficult for some and impossible for others. Those who have spent time in prison are often worse than they were before incarceration.

Sending someone to prison should be a last resort. Drug addicts, alcoholics and those with mental health issues need treatment and rehabilitation. Young people should be discouraged from getting involved with gangs and drugs. Restorative justice programs are worth trying. Anything would be better than the current system.

  1. Author Catherine Townsend-Lyon says:

    The funny thing about this whole “Charge the Inmate” for costs to be locked up… many are repeat offenders, and none of them hardly can get employment, so how they Hell do they think there going to GET PAID by these offenders???…..Crazy world we live In my friend……*Catherine*


  2. bagpipesandbells says:

    I totally agree. I think in general the criminal justice system should focus on rehabilitation rather than out-and-out punishment. For a lot of them prison is a gateway to a life of crime. It doesn’t address the underlying issues of “why?” I absolutely agree some deserve it (murderers, rapists, etc. who don’t deserve to ever see the light of day again) but for non-violent/lesser offenses, it does much more harm than good.

    Unfortunately, I think the “punish punish punish” mentality of criminal justice is a large part of the reason homelessness has skyrocketed. They aren’t ever given the tools/skills needed to live a productive life and wind up either unemployable or back in prison. It’s a sad situation all around, and as you mentioned it costs the poor taxpayers more money in the long run.


  3. billiamholt says:

    Great points made here! Thanks for writing about this issue. We definitely need some serious public discourse on the subject.


  4. lenkennedy says:

    What a dilemma! Thanks for the post.


    • dcardiff says:

      Thanks Len, I hear stories of prison life on a daily basis. A friend told me that he had been on a five year waiting list to be admitted to a recovery center for alcohol and drug addiction. For people on disability pensions there is very little low cost housing. What is available is bug infested and unfit for habitation. People on these pensions have the choice to pay rent or buy groceries, they can’t do both. That’s why there are panhandlers. They are charged, they go to court, the case is dismissed because they have no assets and no income to pay the fine. Sometimes they elect to serve jail time in lieu of fines. In either situation it is a waste of police time, court time, jail time and public money. ~ Dennis


  5. rubble2bubble says:

    Thank-you for this particular post. Very sobering…and useful to know.


    • dcardiff says:

      Yes, the government is hell bent on incarceration, with little or no regard for rehabilitation. Incarceration hides the problem, except in the fiscal budget. The taxpayer is not well served by paying for people to stay in prison for minor crimes like vagrancy, loitering, panhandling, posession of small amounts of marijuana, drinking in a place other than licensed premises or someone’s home. Community service would be a far better punishment. The money saved to provide more adequate shelter and meals for the homeless. ~ Dennis


  6. I’ve learned that people on parole have to pay parole fees. In AK its $35 / wk. Some people reject parole because not paying the fees is a technical violation so gets you back inside. So they stay inside til their sentence is complete. So the government incurs the $50k per year expense because it is trying to extract $2000 a year in “cost recovery”. Since ex-offenders often can’t get jobs, it ends up being family members who bear the burden. That isn’t justice. It’s punishment by association.


    • dcardiff says:

      I agree, the law makes no sense. Most of my friends are ex-offenders, but I don’t know how the parole system works here, other than it doesn’t work. There is not enough rehabilitation, job training and schooling in prison. Also, as you mentioned, ex-convicts often can’t get jobs, regardless of their qualifications. The employers that will hire them are ex-offenders themselves. This should be changed.

      I know of volunteer programs that help ex-offenders by helping them with resumes, job skills, and presentation for job interviews. This should be the responsibility of the government. The government says these people have served their time and are ready to be reintroduced in society. That doesn’t help if they can’t get jobs. The government should hire them. ~ Dennis


  7. The exact same thing occurs in the U.S. When giving a presentation several years ago, recidivism was 66%. Obviously the Correctional Facilities were not able to correct the issue causing offenses.

    Before I go any further, I do believe some individuals are wired wrong, or exp’d such horrific maltreatment earlier, they will never be fit for society. They are just evil/bad. However, most people I have met who have served time do not meet this criteria. And I have met a lot of sick, oppressed, marginalized people when working as a social worker. I could see past the prison tats and outer appearance and see the humanity and history.
    Now back to the state of affairs you shared regarding Canadian prisons…
    The U.S. also has prison culture which has brutality, rape, emotional abuse and a gang mentaility. The mentally ill stay ill; the addicted may be clean, but are considered “dry drunks” because their fundamental logic/thinking remains the same; the staff are underpaid and the punishment continues once released … which causes former felons to return to “what they know” = return to prison.
    For example, let’s say I cannot afford a doctor for evaluation of anxiety, so my neighbor gives me a few pills, or joints or whatever. I get busted because I am driving a piece of trash for a car and am pulled over for malfunctioning tail-light. Well, if I haven’t taken the pills, smoked the joint etc., I get charged for possession (instead of driving under the influence). Possession means when I finish my time, I am NEVER eligible for Food Stamps. Multiple misdemeanors become an automatic felony, thus employment is darn near impossible. So I can’t get a job, nor feed myself, I feel like a failure…. I fall back on poor coping skills or maybe I commit a petty crime to survive. Then I am in front of the judge again, who then doles another sentence.
    Eventually I become apathetic, and maybe I begin to feel the only place I can have shelter and three sold meals a day is prison. So I do what I know and have always known. I stay trapped in my mental illness, ravaged soul from dysfunctional family, my lack of education or skills, inability to get a job because society sees me as a beast due to a felony and I am marginalized. I am feared. I am hated.
    I am broken, is the reality.
    I am human.
    I am caged by my issues and society’s issues.

    (Again, this does not apply to the primal, psychopath and etc. This is true for the common criminal)


    • dcardiff says:

      Hi Linda, Thanks so much for your comment and for the wonderful work you do as a social worker. I have known many social workers, especially front-line home support outreach workers (there may be a different description in the States). I know there is a high burnout rate, and I sympathize completely. I can’t imagine a more stressful job.

      Your description of the life of an ex-offender, is exactly the situation my homeless friends face each day. I know both common criminals and psychopaths.

      Concerning the addicted and the alcoholic in Canadian prisons, I’ve heard It’s easier to get drugs in prison than outside. The alcoholics switch to being drug addicts, although liquor is smuggled into prisons, or made in prisons, or the inmates drink Listerine, Scope or other over the counter medications.

      Prison is a place to hide the fact that the legal system is incompetent. There is little in the way of rehabilitation, job training, skills for reintroduction to society (although this is picked up by some volunteer organizations). There is also little, or no compensation to the victims of crime.

      Since these ex-offenders can’t get work they end up homeless. They have no address, with no address they can’t vote. The government isn’t interested in the opinions of a minority without a voice. ~ Dennis


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