Proposed legislation to abolish two-for-one credit often given convicted criminals for time spent in pre-trial custody is “draconian” and won’t help solve crime, Red Deer lawyers say.
The Conservative government hoped to introduce the legislation today in Parliament and has support from the Opposition Liberals and guarded support from the NDP.
“I think the (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper government’s criminal justice reforms are draconian and is setting it back instead of forward,” lawyer Patty MacNaughton said on Thursday.
Michael Scrase, another local lawyer, said the Conservatives are just being “punitive and not coming up with ways to help solve crime.”
Jim Dixon, a veteran Lacombe lawyer, said the government should formulate ideas to help rehabilitate criminals instead of finding ways to further punish them.
The main justification for giving double credit for pre-trial detention has been that it compensates inmates for so-called “dead time” spent in overcrowded detention centres that lack proper rehabilitation programs.
MacNaughton said everyone should remember that people charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty.
She is currently defending people accused in two high-profile Central Alberta crimes, which include charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder.
Those suspects face a year or more in remand before their cases come to trial.
She said some people spend months in pre-trial custody because they can’t get or afford bail and must wait for trials in a crowded system.
In Red Deer, wait times for trials that will take a day or more have ballooned to eight or nine months, Scrase said. Just a few years ago, the wait was half that.
The Alberta system is chronically short of provincial court judges and sees trials in Calgary and Edmonton set more than a year down the road.
MacNaughton fears some people may plead guilty to avoid long delays in waiting for a trial.
“Often some people will have a legitimate defence to argue at trial,” she added.
Scrase said the Tory proposal is “outrageous.”
He said people should receive credit for time served when they are housed with one or two other people in cells built for one.
MacNaughton said there’s virtually nothing for people in remand centres to do. “There’s no programs to take like in a federal jail, where there’s numerous programs and services.”
Dixon said the government needs to spend more time thinking of ways to rehabilitate inmates and turn them out as productive members of society.
He said the flexibility aspect of parole and the granting of incentives to accused or convicted people is diminished by removing credits.
Critics argue the concept of two-for-one has been abused by some prisoners who try to prolong pre-trial custody to reduce their overall period behind bars.
The Criminal Code doesn’t spell out the ratio but the vast majority of judges accept it as a rule of thumb.