Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Expanding jails will not solve overcrowding
The Selinger government announced a 160-bed expansion to Milner Ridge Correctional Centre on Tuesday -- a day before a massive rally by government workers over safety conditions in Manitoba's jails.
"The timing is interesting," Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union staff representative Ken Crawford said. "But it's a case of too little too late."
About 400 corrections and probation workers are expected to attend today's rally. Protesters will march through the downtown at 2:15 p.m. beginning at the Winnipeg Convention Centre and proceeding to the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Building.
Corrections workers are also negotiating a new contract with the province.
Crawford said the province should be building an entirely new provincial jail that can handle 750 inmates to reduce the current strain of overcrowding on the system and to meet its needs into the future.
He said by the time the 160-bed expansion at Milner Ridge is finished in 2012, the province's jails will still be overcrowded. That's because of the impact of federal changes that get tough on criminals, including the end of the two-for-one sentencing credit that judges grant offenders for time they've served in jail while awaiting trial.
That increase in inmates is on top of the fact the inmate population increases by six to seven per cent each year, he said.
The latest expansion to Milner Ridge is the fourth in four years and will increase its capacity to 524 inmates, Attorney General Andrew Swan said Tuesday.
Swan said the union should not be surprised about the timing of the expansion as both the province and union have already discussed it.
He also said an earlier addition of jail space at Milner included putting in the necessary infrastructure such as food handling, water and waste-water treatment systems, for a future expansion.
"We've had this in this works for some time," Swan said, adding the province will continue to expand existing facilities as needed rather than build another new jail from scratch.
"Frankly, we also have to keep our eye on the cost," he said. "It's a lot cheaper for us to keep adding to capacity at our existing prisons than to go and build an entirely new one."
In the past few years the province said it has added 172 cells to the Lac du Bonnet-area jail. Work is already underway on adding another 64 cells announced earlier this year. Modular construction is being used in that project to speed the construction process, making the beds available more quickly.
Swan said work is also underway to add 40 more beds at The Pas Correctional Centre and 80 at the Brandon Correctional Centre. Sixty-five news beds will be added to the women's correctional system with the new women's facility being built in Headingley to replace the Portage Women's Correctional Centre.
Adding more jail cells, will not solve the problem of overcrowding. We cannot keep building more jails and funding expansions. The Conservatives' tough on crime agenda is the real problem behind overcrowding. The courts need less reliance on imprisonment and more on community alternatives, we need to reinstate double time credit, abolish mandatory minimum sentences and grant more individuals bail, to lessen overcrowding in remand facilities. Longer prison sentences increase the rate of re-offending and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration. They also fail at addressing the root causes of crime and the contributing factors such as poverty, addictions, and unemployment. Inmates become dependent, institutionalized, not rehabilitated, released with little assistance, and are negatively influenced by the negative prison environment and subculture.