The NDP's justice critic Nicole Sarauer says she is concerned Saskatchewan's 2017-18 budget does not address issues surrounding overcrowded jails. Photo by Michaela Solomon.

Struggling with overcrowded facilities and high numbers of people on remand, last year’s justice budget came up $10.3 million short. This year’s budget aims to avoid a similar scenario, through programs such as a $1 million crime reduction fund and a remand reduction strategy. Justice minister Gordon Wyant will be receiving recommendations from the caucus committee on how to spend this money most effectively.

On budget day, Wyant admitted Saskatchewan is facing challenges concerning remand, which he said will be addressed with the Remand Reduction Strategy. “In the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, 60 per cent of the people there are on remand, usually for less than six days,” said Wyant. “In reducing the number of people on remand, we will reduce costs to the system.”

This coming fiscal year, the Saskatchewan government has allocated an extra $1.7 million to policing, $6.9 million to community safety and well-being, and only an extra $347,000 to custody, supervision and rehabilitation services.

The community safety and well-being fund exists to provide Saskatchewan communities with development and crime prevention funding, as well as funding devoted to programs that will address violence and abuse, and the coordination of northern Indigenous justice programs. The budget increase will be allocated to a number of extra programs to help with community safety. The expectation is that this will cause a ripple effect by reducing the number of reoffenders, and therefore reducing the number of people spending time on remand.

Wyant explained that often times, people end up on remand because they’ve breached the order under which they were released. People on remand in Saskatchewan usually stay there for no more than three to six days, costing the province money. “So we’re looking at what we can do at the front end to make sure they don’t get into the system,” said Wyant.

“We want to get moving on this as quickly as possible,” he added.

The Ministry of Justice will lose $9.2 million for central management and services. Courts and civil justice will lose $358,000, and court services are down $605,000.

“When you make these sort of short term cuts, consequences are significant,” said Trent Wotherspoon, interim leader of the opposition. “The cost of locking people up through re-offence is really high, so if we have a government that is not taking seriously its ability to have an effective corrections system, that drives up costs for everyone.”

In November 2016, the Ministry of Justice made the decision to close the Queen’s Bench court in Weyburn, despite concerns from the community. The closure was expected to save the ministry $108,000. In the same month, the government approved $10.3 million in extra spending, and looked to extend the hours court sits.

The provincial auditor’s report cites the fact that in the past 11 years, Saskatchewan jail populations have grown 51 percent, due to the number of people on remand increasing a whole 104 per cent.

Justice critic Nicole Sarauer said she’s skeptical. “I have a lot of concerns about the lack of any policies in the budget to address remand in a meaningful way,” said Sarauer. “With the wage roll backs in the public sector that’s going to hurt public prosecutors, and that’s going to do nothing for court delays and the issues that are in our remand system.”

“We have cuts to the Aboriginal Courtworker Program, we have cuts in so many community supports across Saskatchewan,” said Wotherspoon. “This certainly isn’t going to help with having an effective corrections system. At the end of the day we want to reduce re-offences.”