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.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jails overcrowded and it's only going to get worse, thanks to the Conservatives!

Manitoba can't add jail cells fast enough to a corrections system that's bursting at the seams.
Almost every provincial jail is jammed with inmates beyond the capacity the facility was built to handle, according to figures Attorney General Andrew Swan released.

To the rafters

Most jails in the province are stuffed.
Here are recent inmate counts and the rated capacity of each provincial jail:
For youth:
Agassiz Youth Centre, in-house population, 76, number of beds 100;
Brandon youth unit, in-house population, 10, number of beds 6;
Manitoba Youth Centre, in-house population, 181, number of beds 150;
The Pas youth centre, in-house population, 4, number of beds 4.
For adults:
Brandon Correctional Centre, in-house population, 269, number of beds, 164;
Dauphin Correctional Centre, in-house population, 83, number of beds, 61;
Headingley Correctional Centre, in-house population, 755, number of beds, 485;
Milner Ridge Correctional Centre, in-house population, 315, number of beds, 300;
Portage Correctional Centre, in-house population, 71, number of beds, 35;
The Pas Correctional Centre, in-house population, 144, number of beds, 74;
Winnipeg Remand Centre, in-house population, 364, number of beds, 289.
Who's sentenced? Who's on remand?
The total in-house sentenced youth population is 271. Of those, 56 (21 per cent) are sentenced and 215 (70 per cent) are on remand or pretrial custody.
The total adult population is 2,001. Of those, 631 (32 per cent) are sentenced. The remand population is 1,370 (68 per cent).
Of the total inmate population in Manitoba, only 30 per cent are sentenced inmates.

Jail-building breakout

A new women's jail at Headingley at a cost of more than $25 million
Spending another $25 million to add 80 more "beds" to the Brandon Correctional Centre, which was the scene of a riot last October that guards blamed on inmate overcrowding. The women's jail opens next year.
The province is also adding 64 medium-security beds to the Milner Ridge Correctional Centre near Lac du Bonnet, bringing its capacity to 364 inmates. The new expansion follows on the heels of a 150-bed expansion at Milner Ridge last year. The province has said it's using modular or prefabricated construction to make those new cells available as quickly as possible. The total project is about $17 million.
The Pas Correctional Centre is also being rebuilt to add 40 new minimum- to low-medium security spaces in a dorm-style layout. The cost is estimated at $3 million.
The Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie has also been expanded by 40 cells.
-- Source: Manitoba government
Now officials are gearing up for what could be even more prisoners as Ottawa kills the controversial two-for-one credit judges often award offenders for time spent in pretrial custody. The move is designed to reduce the high number of prisoners on remand -- 70 per cent of people in provincial jails are in that legal limbo between being charged and tried. But some fear the opposite effect.
"The big problem is the courts are backed up," University of Winnipeg criminology professor Michael Weinrath said. "It may mean the Crown can leverage more guilty pleas, but you're still going to have a remand population."
The Harper government is also looking at mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes and making inmates earn their parole rather than have it handed to them automatically under statutory release.
Swan said the impact of these changes on the provincial system is unknown, but it's something that's being watched closely. "It is a challenge because there are so many factors," Swan said. "Our hope is they'll (offenders) start dealing with their situations earlier."
Swan said with more offenders pleading guilty to charges, those convicted of serious crimes will move into the federal system like Stony Mountain Institution a lot sooner.
But it also means more inmates entering the provincial system -- and at a steeper cost.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Wednesday the federal price tag on the Truth in Sentencing Act will be $2 billion over five years. However, the provinces might end up paying even more. That's because most offenders are convicted of sentences of two years less a day, which puts them into a provincial jail cell.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is expected to release his own report next week on the new act. He's expected to show the cost of ending the two-for-one credit could run up to $10 billion over five years, split between federal and provincial governments.
"We don't see this as a magic solution," said John Hutton of the Manitoba branch of the John Howard Society, which advocates for the rights of prisoners. "It could make the problem get worse."
Hutton said overcrowding means inmates spend more time in their cells than they would under normal circumstances. That builds resentment that's transferred to guards.
He said corrections officials have adopted a plan to spread inmates around the system so no one jail is completely overcrowded, but it means a suspect arrested for an offence in Winnipeg is housed in Brandon. That creates a logistical nightmare of getting people to court and to see their lawyers and family.
Swan said the province has not ruled out adding even more jail cells to what it's adding now and what it's added over the past few years. He said since the NDP came to power in 1999 they've essentially added the capacity of another Headingley Correctional Institution or another 300 beds to the corrections system.
Manitoba isn't alone in jail overcrowding. Saskatchewan had the highest adult incarceration rate of all provinces, according to a 2009 Statistics Canada report. Saskatchewan had 187 adults behind bars per 100,000 population. Manitoba was second-highest at 177, while Nova Scotia (59) and Newfoundland and Labrador (68) were lowest.
Progressive Conservative justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said the province should have started adding more jail spaces a lot sooner to deal with the overflow and current practice of triple-bunking inmates in a single cell.
"The federal Conservatives have been crystal-clear on getting more offenders off the street," Goertzen said.
Goertzen said if the province wanted to truly focus on public safety it would build a new adult jail to house more inmates rather than adding onto existing facilities.
"It is expensive," he said. "We've never shied away from that. But there is a cost to victimization."
Weinrath also said the cost of adding more jail cells is more expensive than what the government says.
"You have to run these places," he said. "They are a huge payroll. There's operational costs. It costs $8 million to $10 million a year to run these places."
Weinrath added Canada is now locking up more people than it ever has, but it has not had a significant impact on crime.
"We do have a fairly violent province and certainly you can't just hold the hands of recidivists," he said. "I think right now there is a need for increased use of custody, but I'd be very cautious.
"People will get out eventually. You can't lock them up forever."

Here were some comments by voiceofreason that I completely agreed with!
Lots of people willing to raise taxes to lock people up, how about raising taxes to make sure all kids have enough to eat and a safe place to sleep.It would cost a lot less and in the long term the benefits would be much greater.

And for all you people who think jail is such a good deal, you've obviously never seen one, never mind spent time there.

Are there any statistics on how many inmates are in jail because of the "War on Drugs"? Not just the traffickers but also the people who committed crimes to get drugs that are priced all out of proportion with their intrinsic value due to their prohibition? Should everyone who drinks a beer be thrown in jail? The damages caused by alcohol are well documented. Of course not. But by the same token, not everybody who smokes a joint or snorts a line is a criminal until they're dragged into the legal system. First you make laws that turn citizens into criminals, then you panic because there are so many criminals. Before we make the move to U.S. style incarceration policies maybe it would behoove to study U.S. history. Prohibition has never worked there unless you regard it as a make work project for law enforcement. Despite their spectacular rate of incarceration it hasn't done any good except keeping guards employed. Now politicians want to bring in minimum sentences. Might I suggest politicians stick to politicking and let judges do the judging. One size fits all doesn't work for clothes, it certainly isn't going to work for justice.

When you throw someone in jail it usually means society has failed. Winning the "War on Crime" will take a lot more than trying to hide the issue in jails. The answer lies in producing fewer criminals. By the time someone hits the legal system it's usually too late.

It seems people think that making other people live like animals will somehow help their rehabilitation. News Flash: These people will be getting out someday. Do you really think that stripping people of all dignity and self respect helps anyone? Packing prisoners in will increase the level of violence both against other inmates and against guards. And when they get out they won't leave this propensity for violence at the prison gate. It will be coming soon to a street near you. There are some people who should be locked up for a long time but there has to be a better way to deal with the vast majority of people processed through the legal system. Getting revenge on lawbreakers may make you feel better in the short term but in the end it's a losing proposition.

In my opinion, the main causes of prison overcrowding is mandatory minimum sentences (which all need to be abolished because they limit judicial discretion in considering all relevant circumstances of an offender and the crime whilst deciding upon an appropriate sanction) and the restriction of conditional sentences for more violent crimes. 

It's a proven fact that longer prison sentences do not deter, reduce or prevent crime.. so why are we sentencing for longer? It's simple. People are stuck in the retributive justice frame of mind and are only concerned about vengeance and revenge against someone. What they are overlooking, is that longer prison sentences actually increase recidivism rates when these offenders are released. This is probably a  direct result of overcrowding as overcrowded conditions cause more stress between inmates and guards, increased hostility and increased levels of violence. Prison is a quick fix, not a long term solution. We can't keep building more prisons. It's not going to solve anything.

We need to allocate more funding to and place greater emphasis and focus on rehabilitation programs and treatments for offenders. We need to uncover the underlying root causes of crime, the contributing social and economic factors, biological predispositions, mental disorders, learning/behavioural disorders and psychological personality traits, which all contribute to criminal offending. If we can help change an offender and transform them into productive and law abiding citizens, our society will be safer in the long term. 

Many people always criticize the fact that inmates get to watch TV, go to the gym, have recreation time and family visits. I would argue, that these things are essential in helping people to abandon their pro criminal attitudes, behaviours and values. Further deprivations will NOT help these offenders in becoming better people and deprivations would not aid whatsoever, in rehabilitation efforts. 

Virtually all offenders WILL be released someday back into society. We can't lock them up forever, and that's not going to change, as it would be barbaric and uncivilized. So in that case, we need to consider what will be in SOCIETY'S best interests. Imprisoning more and more people and turning them into more violent and hardened criminals, is not going to solve the crime problem and will only make our society more dangerous when these individuals are released. We need to do our best in helping them to become better citizens once again. Getting revenge on lawbreakers may make the public feel better in the short term but will only make society more dangerous in the long term. Also, the courts need to rely less on prison as a sanction and consider alternatives and the least restrictive options, such as community sanctions, restorative justice initiatives, Aboriginal justice, drug treatment courts, etc. etc.  

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