Sask. moves ahead with Saskatoon jail remand expansion with $52M budget commitment

In the 2021-22 budget, the Saskatchewan government has committed $52 million to the Saskatoon jail remand expansion. The project is expected to cost $120 million.

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The Saskatchewan government committed $52 million to a new remand expansion at Saskatoon’s provincial jail this year, but it may not eliminate the need for 30-person dorm-like settings.

The provincial budget released on Tuesday included the funding pledge for the previously announced $120 million remand expansion to add capacity for more than 400 new beds. Announced last June, it’s expected to be completed in 2024.

In an interview on Wednesday, Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell said the government continues to try to reduce the number of people on remand, “But … we’re not successful enough and this issue of remand is a challenge right across the country and it has been a challenge in Saskatchewan for a number of years.”

Although the expansion will add new cells and hundreds of new beds, the use of what’s been described as dorm settings housing up to 15 bunks isn’t guaranteed to end.

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Inmates raised crowding as a safety issue during the COVID-19 outbreak at the Saskatoon jail.

Tell said she’s learned never to say never on anything, “However, our hope … the increase in the number of beds will in a definitive way keep that as much as possible from ever happening. That’s about as definitive as I can say.”

The project is expected to create 130 permanent jobs and 600 construction jobs.

John Howard Society of Saskatchewan CEO Shawn Fraser said efforts to reduce crowding during the pandemic showed there’s a way to lower incarceration rates without seeing a corresponding increase in crime.

Expanding remand facilities is a reactive rather than proactive way to spend taxpayers’ money, Fraser suggested.

“Ideally, if this resource could be spent on things that help prevent crime in the first place, that’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”

The majority of people who serve jail sentences do so in the community, and there is room to support more, he added.

Scott Thompson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, said remand is the most expensive of solutions in the criminal justice system.

During the pandemic, particularly in the early months, there have been decreases in the inmate population recorded.

“COVID has shown us there are community alternatives that are cheaper, dramatically cheaper than the answer of remand,” Thompson said.

The budget included $3.2 million this year for intervention programming related to the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy, but no announcement regarding a new remand reduction initiative, particularly one that would replace the Community Alternatives to Remand (CAR) program that wound down earlier this year.

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Tell said one positive from the CAR initiative was how much was learned and the government will take the information and pursue new avenues that have a “good opportunity” for success in keeping people out of remand who don’t need to be there.

tjames@postmedia.com

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