Last week, the legislation that eliminates two-for-one credit on Canadian sentences came into force. What this means is that people convicted of a criminal offence and then sentence do not receive additional credit for time they spent in jail before they were found guilty or plead guilty.
While this new law will appeal to those espousing a tough on crime agenda, there are some real concerns it raises.
First, the two-for-one credit took into account that the conditions at the detention centres where people are typically held before trial are much worse than at a federal or provincial penitentiary. Local detention centres are over-crowded, often in poor repair and lack programming. Spending 6 months in this type of holding tank is much, much worse than 6 months at a proper facility.
Second, there is a philosophical argument that is important for people who believe that the presumption of innocence is an important tenet of our judicial system. Pre-trial, pre-conviction custody entails detaining someone who has not been convicted of a crime. In our view, there needs to be recognition of this fact.
Third, it eliminates the ability of judges to treat each case individually. One of the virtues of Canada’s criminal justice system is its ability to tailor the outcome of a criminal prosecution to the facts of the case. Tying a judge’s hands is contrary to this important principle.
Fourth, lengthy pre-sentence custody is necessitated by a lack of government resources. People serve “dead time” because there are backlogs in the courts, not enough judges and court staff, etc. The removal of the 2-1 in sentencing takes a way one incentive for the Crown and the administration of justice to keep the process moving.
Fifth, there is really no evidence that this move will have any impact on reducing crime. This is legislation about appearing to be tough on crime. It is not about reducing crime.