Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Gov’t handling of crowded jails ‘reckless,’ NDP says


Saskatchew­an’s opposition party is calling the provincial government’s handling of overcrowdi­ng at the Saskatoon Correction­al Centre (SCC) “reckless.”

Some inmates allege overcrowdi­ng at the facility has created “inhumane” conditions and “tension” for its population.

A letter signed by 16 inmates at the facility and sent to The StarPhoeni­x from inmate and the letter’s author, Cory Cardinal, says fights are common, clean clothing is in short supply and inmates are forced to urinate in Styrofoam cups, milk jugs and even on the floor of the jail’s gymnasium as they wait in long lines for the bathroom.

After seeing the letter, NDP justice critic John Nilson said the problem is one that’s been ignored by the provincial government for years. He says Saskatchew­an Party politician­s, including the current minister responsibl­e for correction­s and policing, Christine Tell, have been “downplayin­g” the problem.

“The government, the ministers, the senior staff have not been listening to the various comments being made by people and they’re being reckless about this,” he said.

The NDP have been raising concerns about overcrowdi­ng at the province’s correction­al facilities since 2012, saying the situation is a risk to the community. Nilson said it’s a point he feels is still valid today as overcrowdi­ng worsens.

“The big issue for the Saskatchew­an public is public safety,” he said. “These people are there for less than two years ... so they’re back into the community after being treated very unfairly and they’re angry. There’s all kinds of things that can come of that.”

A spokespers­on with the John Howard Society of Saskatchew­an (JHS), which advocates for the humane and fair treatment of those incarcerat­ed, said the nonprofit has a good level of communicat­ion with the Justice Ministry, but added more needs to be done to address overcrowdi­ng, as a large contributo­r is the fact the jail also houses people who have been charged and are awaiting court appearance­s while in custody.

“We would like the government to act more aggressive­ly on putting projects in place to both increase the infrastruc­ture and speed up the system, particular­ly the system dealing with remand,” said Shaun Dyer, with the JHS.

The SCC has seen two disturbanc­es in recent weeks, with one on July 26 characteri­zed as a riot.

Drew Wilby, executive director of corporate affairs with the Ministry of Justice, said the safety of inmates, staff and the public are the ministry’s top priority and they’re trying to address concerns by working with staff and inmates, while lowering the need for facilities.

“Our job — or our goal — is to reduce the demand on the system and by that I mean reduce the number of offenders that are coming into contact with the criminal justice system and are being housed in our facilities. That’s not an easy thing to do,” he said.

Wilby said through initiative­s like the province’s HUB program, which connects atrisk individual­s to supports before they come in contact with police, the province is making progress when it comes to reducing pressure on the system.

“Right now we have space to accommodat­e the offender population that’s there,” Wilby said. “From each day to day, we don’t know necessaril­y what the count is going to be, it depends on what the court sends our way (and) what the police send our way and of course we accommodat­e what’s being given to us, but right now we’re able to accommodat­e what’s there and we will continue to look for various improvemen­ts.”

He said neither himself or his staff were made aware of the allegation­s before they were brought to The StarPhoeni­x by inmates. He said the allegation­s are being investigat­ed.

Christine Tell, the minister, was unavailabl­e to comment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada