An award-winning program that helps rehabilitate prisoners and protect the public by keeping them from re-offending is falling victim to budget cuts.
The Lifeline program, which provides support for those serving life sentences and helps re-integrate those who are released on parole, has been operating in Canadian prisons for more than 20 years.
Rick Sauve, who spent 17 years behind bars and has been out for almost two decades, says he survived thanks to the program he now works for.
"When you get a life sentence, you think your whole world is over," Sauve told CBC News. "There’s not a lot of help in there. You’re kind of just left to flounder."
Skip Graham, who works with the St. Leonard’s Society, which oversees Lifeline, believes the decision to cut the program flies in the face of good corrections policy and has nothing to do with saving money.
"It’s the most practical, humane program that has proven itself, and it’s the one they’ve decided to eliminate, so it’s just politics," he said.
"The lifeline program is really the [Correctional Service Canada's] only strategy in addressing the long-term offender, which makes up about 20 per cent of the population," Graham added.
Officials with CSC declined to be interviewed, but in a statement they said the program was not proven to be cost-effective.
Julie Carmichael, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, told CBC News in an email Monday that evaluation and research findings did not reveal significant results were being achieved by the program.
"It wasn’t producing any results that improved public safety. We will not spend a dollar on corrections that is not necessary to keep Canadians safe," Carmichael wrote.
The CSC's annual budget is $3 billion, and of that roughly two per cent is spent on programming for inmates. The estimated cost of the Lifeline program is $2 million per year
However, research by CSC staff reports that inmates involved in Lifeline were less likely to get into problems while in prison or end up in segregation. Additionally, figures show lifers released on parole are among the least likely to re-offend.
While Ottawa is giving up on the program, other jurisdictions aren’t. Officials from Colorado are so impressed with Lifeline, that they’re setting up a similar program based on the model here.
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)