Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Corrections facilities overcrowded.

Overcrowding 'alarming': union official 

Prisoner counts in Manitoba jails hit an all-time high in March, and overcrowding has created a perilous situation for guards and inmates, a union official says.

Headingley Correctional Institute is bursting at the seams -- there were 738 inmates early last month, well above the ideal capacity of 485, Manitoba Justice officials confirmed Wednesday.

In a letter obtained by the Free Press, one source detailed "unprecedented counts" at Headingley and six other adult prisons.

The letter dated March 3 from Greg Skelly, Headingley Correctional Institute's superintendent, states, "As you may know the Manitoba Corrections system is once again (experiencing) unprecedented counts. Other Correctional Centres are looking for areas in which to place these offenders."

The letter says Headingley added space for 32 prisoners last month.
Ken Crawford, corrections staff representative for the Manitoba Government Employees Union, said the overcrowding is "alarming" for his members. He said corrections officials are filing a record number of disability claims and are working longer shifts and more overtime hours.

"That's leading to burnout... the system is truly beginning to fall apart," he said.
Provincial corrections official Ron Leslie confirmed numbers hit an all-time high at "most, if not all," jails, and acknowledged the overcrowding. He said populations have been steadily growing since 2005 due to factors like a high remand population, which makes up about 69 per cent of about 2,000 adults in Manitoba jails.

Leslie said in some prisons there is a bunk bed in a room for two prisoners, as well as a mattress on the floor for a third.
"We're still dealing with intake. I mean, we don't have a whole lot of control over that," said Leslie, Manitoba Justice's executive director of adult custody.
"We're doing contingency planning with all the facilities, including Headingley, as far as where and how we're going to accommodate them."
He said staff are trying to deal with issues like how to keep gang members separated and alleviating the strain on staff.
"We're constantly dealing and developing contingency plans (on) how are we going to deal with the count if it increases," he said.
"(Overcrowding) definitely impacts on staff and the offenders in custody. It can be a stressful condition for them. But I also would mention that the managers and staff of the facilities, they've done a phenomenal, commendable job on dealing with this high count (and) overcrowded conditions."
Jail officials have tried to combat the problem by adding 50 dorm beds to the gym in the Brandon Correctional Centre, said Leslie.

A spokesman for the John Howard Society of Manitoba said jail overcrowding will only get worse. As of late February, offenders lost the two-for-one credit they received for time spent in jail awaiting trial due to changes in the federal Criminal Code.
"They'll say, 'To heck with pleading... I want my day in court,'" said John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba.
"It's going to slow things down."
The elimination of two-for-one credit applies to people who were arrested and are being held in custody after the announcement in late February by federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
Darren Sawchuk, president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, said he's received information from clients indicating full jails mean prisoners have problems reaching their lawyers by telephone.
"It impacts obviously in the tension they feel when they're double-bunked," he said.
Overcrowding leads to heightened tensions among prisoners, he said.
"You end up with trouble," he said.
In September, the Brandon Correctional Centre will have 80 more beds available after construction finishes on an expansion. By next year, a new prison for women will open.
Beyond that, the province recently announced plans in the budget to expand jails in the province, but haven't released details.

Number of prisoners in Manitoba jails Wednesday
Jail Inmate count Ideal capacity
Headingley Correctional Institute 738 485
Brandon 271 164
Dauphin 66 61
Milner Ridge 324 300
Portage 63 35
The Pas 148 74
Winnipeg Remand Centre 413 289
-- Source: Manitoba Justice

Prison overcrowding

This was a good article and I am glad it allocated space for both sides of the argument in order for the public to make an informed decision on the issue.

To reduce overcrowding, we need to reduce incarceration rates and start imposing more community sanctions. With the government implementing restrictions on conditional sentences, stricter mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on double time credit, is leading to even more overcrowding!  We need to eliminate these laws completely and increase judicial discretion on imposing appropriate sentences and considering all relevant circumstances, mitigating and aggravating factors. These laws prevent that from happening. They are not helping in this issue at all. This is leading to less than ideal prison conditions which affects inmates' health along many other things. Prison overcrowding is only going to get worse. We need to realize that these new bills/laws are not working or helping any of these situations. It also leads to tension and stress between prisoners, causing more riots/fights, etc.

People are more prone to anti-social behaviour and violence, rehabilitation programs cannot function properly and don't have enough funding leading to more violent offenders when released, there are less resources to go around to all inmates, opportunities to participate in rehab programs, self-improvement, academic, employment and vocational training are curtailed significantly. There is a lack of work opportunities within the prison leading to more disruptive behaviour. 

Crowding creates stress which can lead to aggression. In crowded situations, there is more aggression and competition for resources, less cooperation and more social withdrawal. 

We need to reduce the incarceration population. The government is not helping in this effort by implementing bills/laws which call for longer incarceration periods, such as the restriction of conditional sentences, more mandatory minimum sentences and the elimination of double time credit. We need to realize that these "tough on crime" policies are not working and are only creating more problems. Most researchers agree that it is not realistic to to expect to solve overcrowding problems solely through the construction of more and newer facilities. 

I think we need to implement more community-based sanctions, counseling, etc. in order for offenders to treat their issues that cause crime and for society to focus on the underlying social, economic and political factors contributing to increased criminal behaviour. 

I think we over-rely on incarceration as the only way to protect society and in some cases, it is, but in many cases, Judges are simply not considering alternatives to prison and the least restrictive option. 

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