Academic journal article Social Justice

Playing the "Treasury Card" to Contest Prison Expansion: Lessons from a Public Criminology Campaign

Academic journal article Social Justice

Playing the "Treasury Card" to Contest Prison Expansion: Lessons from a Public Criminology Campaign

Article excerpt

WHEREAS MANY JURISDICTIONS, NOTABLY THE UNITED STATES, HAVE SEEN massive increases in the use of imprisonment in recent decades, Canada's incarceration rate has remained relatively stable (Doob and Webster 2006). Although this remains the case, a recent flurry of "public safety" measures introduced by successive minority (2006-2008, 2008-2011) and majority (2011- present) federal governments led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has translated into a record total of provincial-territorial (1) (see Dauvergne 2012, 20) and federal (2) prisoners (see Brosnahan 2012).

These initiatives fall into three categories. First, there are sentencing measures touted by proponents as efforts to: (1) place a greater proportion of criminalized people into prison by further restricting the use of conditional sentences in the community; (2) subject individuals to lengthier prison terms by instituting greater limits on the credit received for time served in remand at sentencing and introducing new mandatory minimum sentences; and (3) restrict opportunities for community supervision as part of terms of incarceration by eliminating mechanisms such as accelerated parole review for first-time federal prisoners assessed as nonviolent. Second, there are administrative measures that are intensifying austere conditions within the walls of federal penitentiaries run by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), including increasing the use of double-bunking in cells designed for one prisoner (Harris 2012). Third, there are (dis)integration measures, such as application fee increases, which put record suspensions out of reach for many seeking a fresh start following the completion of their sentences.

Many of these measures were implemented when Canada's Conservative government had a minority of seats in Parliament. Floods of experts across disciplines and professions denounced this punishment agenda because of its human consequences and because it would not enhance community safety. Having successfully positioned themselves as the "tough on crime" political party with support from law enforcement officials and segments of the victims' movement, the Conservatives branded their opponents as "soft on crime"--a slogan adopted by many journalists who were covering penal policy debates. Many of these legislative initiatives passed owing to the support of opposition parties, which held the majority of seats in the House of Commons and the Senate. This occurred even though the Conservatives failed to disclose basic information concerning the bills, including their projected costs. The lack of transparency prompted the Liberal critic for Public Safety and National Security, Mark Holland (2009), to request that the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) provide cost estimates for some proposed laws so that "we can have an informed debate on whether or not these measures are cost-effective and desirable." Although they occasionally voiced criticism of their Conservative colleagues, the Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP) also engaged in sloganeering and employ "tough on crime" rhetoric (Larsen and Piche 2009). Populist punitiveness (Bottoms 1995), though not new to the Canadian context (Doob and Webster 2006), had intensified.

I conducted my doctoral research on the construction of new provincial- territorial and federal prison spaces during this period. The CSC did not disclose many of the details I sought, but prison agencies from 13 provinces and territories did provide information on dozens of penal infrastructure projects at various stages of completion by December 2010 (Piche 2012a). Surprisingly, I found that most provincial-territorial governments had not factored federal sentencing measures into their ongoing prison capacity expansion projects. Thus, if the federal government's punishment agenda continued, the influx of additional prisoners might require more prison spaces. With the prorogation of the Parliament on December 30, 2009, all government bills--including proposed punishment measures that were set to become law (see Law Times 2010)--effectively died, necessitating their reintroduction and subjection to the full parliamentary process to be enacted. …

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