VANCOUVER, March 26, 2012 /CNW/ - A report released today calls on the provincial government to restore funding and begin a strategic reform of the criminal justice system. The report, "Justice Denied - The Causes of B.C.'s Criminal Justice System Crisis" was produced by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).
The report examines the justice system chronologically, from the laying of criminal charges, to remand, trial and community correctional efforts and incarceration.
"This examination of the criminal justice system is deeply troubling but not surprising," says Robert Holmes, president of the BCCLA. "Over the last decade our criminal justice system has faced massive budget slashing at the same time it was called on to handle more cases. As a result every element of our justice system has been compromised to the point where the system is barely able to function."
The report shows budget cuts have led to staffing shortages and courtroom closures which have created an unmanageable backlog of criminal cases, waiting times mean hundreds of cases risk being dismissed, our prisons are dangerously overcrowded and rehabilitative efforts are failing.
Among the reports findings:
- since 2001 the budget for court services has been cut 42 per cent;
- since 2001 the budget for legal aid has been cut by 36 per cent;
- since 2001 the corrections budget, which includes probation and corrections officers, has been reduced by 29 per cent;
- in 2008 B.C.'s justice system had almost 15 per cent more cases than in 2001 and B.C. jails housed 16 per cent more prisoners;
- delays before trial have increased 28 per cent in the last six years;
- in 2001 about 27 per cent of pending cases had been in the system for more than eight months compared with 40 per cent today;
- there are now more people in provincial jails awaiting trial than serving a prison sentence;
- in 2010/11 more than 7,000 criminally charged individuals appeared in court without a lawyer;
- 29 per cent of inmates have mental disorders; and
- high caseloads for probation officers mean only 35 per cent of community programming for offenders is fulfilled.
"Given the massive budget cuts and increased caseloads, it is a testament to the men and women who work in our justice system and have kept it from collapsing," says Darryl Walker, president of the BCGEU, which supported the report. "It is ridiculous to suggest that efficiencies alone will fix these problems. We need an investment in our justice system combined with strategic reforms if we are to fix the damage that has been done over the last decade."
The report calls on the government to:
- maintain Crown pre-charge screening of criminal offenses;
- invest in a fully funded legal aid program;
- invest in mental health programs to offer alternatives to criminal justice for those in crisis;
- restore funding to corrections to reduce inmate-officer ratios and reduce overcrowding;
- invest in bail supervision programs;
- reduce probation officer caseloads to increase rehabilitative programs to reduce recidivism; and
- increase the compliment of provincial judges and restore court administrative and security staffing levels.
"This cornerstone of our democracy is broken," says Holmes. "Canada's Chief Justice has remarked on several occasions that it is fundamental that the justice system be recognized as an essential service, deserving of funding as such. The government can no longer ignore the crisis and it certainly won't be fixed with a business analysis approach to the problem."
For further information:
Robert Holmes, BCCLA, president (604) 838-6856
Evan Stewart, BCGEU, Communications Officer (604) 220-3095