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, May 27, 2010

Inmates on remand crowd Canada's jails

Provincial and territorial jails in much of the country are bursting, with large numbers of people in them who haven't been convicted of any offence.
Those people are sitting in pre-trial custody, also known as remand, waiting for their cases to be heard.
Statistics from provincial and territorial governments show the percentage of people on remand in jails ranges from a quarter at the low end, up to more than two-thirds at the high end, in Manitoba.
John Hutton of the John Howard Society, a group campaigning to reform the justice system, said the federal government's "get tough on crime" measures will worsen the situation by throwing more people in jail.
"To reduce crime, you need to address the causes of crime, and if you're not doing that it's like you're pouring water into a leaky bucket," he said.
Former judge Charles Huband said things will get worse with Ottawa's justice reforms.
"It depends what province and territory you look at. But some jails exceed the designed bed space by 300 to 500 offenders a day," said Huband, who sat on the Manitoba Court of Appeal and was once the provincial Liberal Party leader.

Creating problems

The former judge said pressure needs to be put on the federal government to change some of its "tough-on-crime" legislation because it's part of the problem.
Ken Crawford, who represents unionized correctional staff with the Manitoba government, said the province is adding more jail cells but what it needs to do is clear out the court backlog.
"As an interim measure, let's have judges sitting on the weekend, let's have night court, let's have Crown attorneys that are working on the weekend," he said.
Manitoba's jails are currently 45 per cent over "ideal" capacity, figures from the province show. The worst case, the correctional centre in The Pas, has more than twice as many inmates as it would ideally hold.
Crawford has called the overcrowded situation a "powder keg," and he said guards and other staff are so worried they plan to march on the Manitoba legislature June 9 to demand action.
One man, who gave only his first name, Antonio, knows firsthand the conditions in the detention system in Manitoba. The 38-year-old has spent time at several jails, and he said the overcrowding creates tension among people who are already struggling with anger management.
"The cells are very small, and being double-bunked is hard enough, let alone having a third person in there," he said.
"Bottom line is it's too much people in one space, period."

Credit system

Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan said he applauds the end of a system that gives prisoners who spend pre-trial time in custody a two-for-one credit when they're sentenced.
He said the change will keep inmates in provincial jails longer but it could also send more people to federal institutions if their sentences exceed two years. Swan said it will also change the mindset of some inmates.
"Right now, it is a reasonable choice to sit languishing in remand, not taking advantage of any of the service that we can provide, not taking any responsibility until you're served roughly half of what your lawyer said is likely your sentence," he said.
But Michael Weinrath, a criminology professor at the University of Winnipeg, said his research shows no evidence of that.
"There's a few inmates that like the two-for-one but a lot more inmates that would just as soon get to trial, find out whether they're innocent or guilty or what charges are going to go ahead or not go ahead," he said.

Well written article! It did a good job of outlining the issues associated with overcrowding.

Overcrowding has adverse effects on inmates, and can cause mental illnesses and has been proven to increase the levels of violence and riots within jails and prisons. Also, there are not enough resources or programs to be distributed evenly to everyone who needs them, which undermines future rehabilitation and successful reintegration. Gangs, drugs, and pro-criminal attitudes and behaviours are prevalent in jails and inmates are often released as more hardened criminals and provided with little assistance in their reintegration. They become negatively influenced by the prison subculture and start to conform to the prison norms and values. 

To reduce overcrowding, the courts need to rely less on prisons as a sentence and more on community based alternatives, which have proven to be more effective. They need to only imprison the most dangerous and violent offenders who pose a threat to the community and who committed planned and pre-meditated crimes, with extensive criminal records. We should not be imprisoning drug or property offenders as prison is not a meaningful sentence and these types of non violent offenders are likely to be negatively influenced by prison. We also need to grant more people bail and only deny bail to those who truly pose a danger to the community. We need to allow judges to have more discretion in considering the circumstances of each case and offender, which means abolishing all mandatory minimum sentences along with re-instating the double time credit which was meant to acknowledge the harsh and overcrowded conditions that inmates experience in pre-trial facilities. We need to stop imprisoning more people for longer periods of time as research shows that this increases the rates of re-offending, yet, this is direction that the Conservatives are pushing for, as they introduce more and more damaging "tough on crime" bills and policies. Placing people in prison for longer periods does not reform or change their thinking and behaviours. We need to address the causes of crime and underlying contributing factors such as unemployment, low levels of education, negative peer influences, addictions, mental illnesses, family violence, poverty, poor parenting, etc. 

Those held in pre-trial are innocent until proven guilty and most of them , should not be subjected to such harsh conditions, especially if they are charged with a non violent, drug or property related crime. We are locking up presumably innocent people for years before they even get the chance to go to trial or be sentenced. If they're found not guilty of the crime which they have been charged with, they are left with the horrendous consequences of having spent time in a brutalizing, dangerous and humiliating environment and of having lost several years of their lives. Remand centres are overcrowded and they offer no access to rehabilitation programs and little access to recreational facilities. These innocent people are being treated as offenders even though they have not been convicted of any offence! And often, Aboriginals, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and those with mental health issues are disproportionately held in remand and denied bail, simply because they cannot afford it. Our criminal justice system is discriminatory and prejudiced. Plus now with all the tough on crime bills, jails are only going to become further overcrowded, the courts will become more clogged up and more people will be in remand facilities and jails and prisons. It's a recipe for disaster and tough on crime equals stupid on crime.    


  1. You're crazy!!! It's like you're saying that they aren't cattle and they're in fact people.

    Oh wait...

    Good job Brittany!

  2. I am not understanding.. But thanks for the compliment!