Fredericton — There has been some controversy over the recent budget allocation to build a $32 million prison in the Fredericton area. Experts argue that a new prison is not needed, and that the money could be better spent on programs like affordable housing.
This week, Public Safety Minister Kris Austin asked journalists, “What was the difference?”
Despite his flippancy, he did outline a few reasons why he felt a prison would be more beneficial than housing.
“When we put that money into affordable housing, we get nothing back,” he explained. “The person is just allowed to, what — live? How does that benefit the province? That’s not a proper investment.”
Conversely, he claims that there is much to gain from a new correctional facility.
“With a prison, we can take those same people who’d simply take up space in affordable housing, give them a purpose, regular work, and a steady 30-cents-an-hour paycheque,” he said. “Then the government is happy, the companies that utilize cheap labour are happy, and everybody wins.”
While it’s difficult to argue with that, the data reflects that incarceration rates are actually going down.
However, echoing Premier Higgs’s recent “data my ass” statement, Austin said that the numbers do not necessarily reflect reality, as he sees it.
“I don’t listen to data, I listen to the people around me,” he told The Manatee. “And the people around me say that poor people are scary.”
To clarify this point, he explained.
“The economy is entering into a recession, and a lot of people at the bottom are going to suffer. It is incumbent on the province to find a place for these people,” he said.
“That place, I’d argue, is prison.”