Saturday, May 1, 2010
Warning about overcrowding in jails
Overcrowding in Saskatchewan's jails is resulting in an increasing number of complaints from prisoners, according to the provincial ombudsman.
In his annual report, released Thursday in the legislature, ombudsman Kevin Fenwick said he received 668 complaints about the corrections ministry in 2009, the highest level in five years.
Much of the increase is attributable to issues related to overcrowding, Fenwick said.
"The correctional centres we have in Saskatchewan were designed to house probably no more than two-thirds, perhaps a half, the number of inmates we have there now," Fenwick said. "The situation is serious and can become critical as we anticipate that more inmates will be sent to the jails as a result of hiring more police officers and the changes to the federal law."
Fenwick says right now some inmates are being housed in substandard conditions including gymnasiums, programming rooms and even some parts of the old Regina correctional centre that were supposed to be closed.
The opening of the new addition to the Regina correctional centre in 2008 allowed many inmates to move out of substandard areas, but there is still a shortage of cells, he said.
Fenwick said he knows that the province is facing budget cuts, but it's vital that planned capital projects, such as the proposed new remand centre for Saskatoon, proceed.
It's also important that money for skills and education programs in the jails continues to flow, he said.
Programming makes jails safer by keeping inmates focused on learning and development. An overcrowded jail with a lack of programming is a recipe for disaster, including a higher risk for violent outbreaks, Fenwick said.
Yogi Huyghebaert, the minister responsible for corrections, said the government understands the problem but can't afford to build new facilities this year.
"It's very easy for somebody to suggest, 'Well, it's unlimited dollars, go ahead and do it.' No, that's not the way we operate," he said. "We have an infrastructure budget this year and I compete for that."
Among the previously announced projects that are being delayed due to budget restraints is the remand centre in Saskatoon.
Huyghebaert said he's confident the centre will make it in to next year's budget.
Fenwick's report covers jails, which are run by the province and typically house prisoners awaiting court dates or serving sentences of less than two years. Prisoners serving sentences of more than two years typically serve them at federal penitentiaries.