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.