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The prisons of Doug Ford: a criminologist offers significantly less expensive solutions

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Several members of the legal field denounced Doug Ford's comments during the last months. (Archive photo)

  • Charles Lalande (View profile)Charles Lalande

Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

Ontario's prisons are overcrowded, and Premier Doug Ford is determined to build “more prisons to keep criminals behind bars for a long time.” By doing this, he persists “in doing things that have never worked,” according to a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, Justin Piché.

Ontarians would be better served if the Ford administration invested more in permanent supportive housing, intensive mental health services and harm reduction and addiction treatment, says criminologist in response to Prime Minister's comments held on March 8.

According to Justin Piché, all of this together costs much less and is much more effective than locking up people who need compassion and support [rather than] handcuffs and a cell.

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According to Statistics Canada, the average annual cost of an inmate in an Ontario provincial jail is more than $130,000, based on 2021-22 data. (File photo)

In addition to teaching, Justin Piché also does research on the construction of detention facilities and other avenues to incarceration. He is also a member of various associations, such as The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, which campaigns to build communities, not cages, and of a coalition against the proposed construction of a prison in Kemptville, about 60 kilometers to the south of Ottawa.

This project, at a cost of $500 million, is not the only one under construction by the Ottawa government. Ontario, which also plans to spend $1.2 billion to build a new correctional center in Thunder Bay.

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Citing Statistics Canada, Justin Piché highlights that the average annual cost of an inmate in an Ontario prison is more than $130,000, according to the most recent data for the year 2021-2022.

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During the interview, Justin Piché twice cited the work of Irvin Waller, author of several works, including Less Law, More Order: The Truth about Reducing Crime.

The criminologist insists that there are cheaper and more effective approaches.

Permanent housing with support costs $40,000 a year. A drug treatment program, lasting 35 days with one year of follow-up, costs approximately $20,000 per year.

In the middle of the interview, Justin Piché gets up. He searches his library and grabs the book Less Law, More Order: The Truth about Reducing Crime written by one of his colleagues at the University of Ottawa, Irvin Waller, criminologist and internationally recognized expert in crime prevention and victims' rights.

In this book, Irvin Waller writes, with supporting studies, that for every dollar invested in prevention upstream of the system that criminalizes and locks people up, we can save an amount of $7 invested in the police, courts, prisons and victim services.

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Irvin Waller is an internationally recognized expert in prevention of crime and victims' rights. (Archive photo)

Radio-Canada contacted Prime Minister Doug Ford's office spokesperson, Caitlin Clark, to update her on the criticisms and solutions offered by Justin Piché.

The latter forwarded the request to the press secretary of the Office of the Solicitor General of Ontario. Through a written statement, Hunter Kell assured that repeat and violent offenders must remain behind bars while emphasizing the need to modernize and expand Ontario's correctional system.

We do not believe that car thieves and home invaders should be let go. We will continue to make necessary investments and take steps to ensure violent criminals stay behind bars.

A quote from Excerpt from the response from the Ministry of the Solicitor General of Ontario

In its response, the ministry made a point of recalling the biggest investing in homelessness prevention and supportive housing in Ontario's history by adding money to its homelessness prevention and housing programs with support services for Aboriginal people.

Ontario also invested $12 million to connect 2,000 people leaving the justice system with employers, an initiative partially welcomed by Justin Piché.

In a context where the province recognized its lack of labor, it opened the door to more professions for criminalized people. From an economic point of view, it was an approach that made sense for the Ford government, he mentioned at the outset.

You can offer a few million dollars for job programs, but at the same time, you spend billions of dollars building new prisons. Where are the government's priorities?

A quote from Justin Piché, professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa

Beyond the debate on the construction of new prisons and solutions to imprisonment, the criminologist brings a broader point of view, once again quoting Irvin Waller.

When we talk about prevention, we also have to think long term, such as investments in education, mentoring programs, leadership and employment opportunities for young people. That can make a huge difference, he concludes.

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