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Saskatchewan’s prisons are overflowing with people and problems, according to a new research report. Warehousing Prisoners in Saskatchewan, authored by Jason Demers, echoes correctional worker’s concerns about a lack of staff training and overcrowding.

 

Multipurpose rooms and gymnasiums have been converted into warehouse-style dormitories across the province. Men are housed in the gym at the women’s facility in Prince Albert, said Demers. The UN says housing two inmates in one cell is only acceptable for temporary relief but facility planners act as if it were the norm, he added.

 

It’s an unsafe practice that increases violence amongst inmates and towards guards, said Simon Enoch, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Saskatchewan office.

 

“Double bunking is a reality across Canada,” said Drew Wilby, executive director of corporate affairs with the Ministry of Justice. He also said that it was disheartening that Demers’ report didn’t include the ministry’s perspective on Saskatchewan’s correctional facilities.

 

In 2012, Elvis Percy Yee was murdered in his cell while awaiting sentencing. Demers said the union declared the murder a direct result of double bunking. “People say you do the crime, you do the time, but a prison sentence isn’t a death sentence.”

 

Enoch said Stephen Harper’s Omnibus crime Bill C-10 has encouraged punitive legislation that emphasizes jailing people for minor offences. “It’s been a lock ‘em up agenda. It’s a completely wrong-headed approach. The (prison) population is exploding. It’s been 30 years of poor policies,” he said adding the biggest predictor of jail time is already being there.

 

Aboriginal people are overrepresented in prison and incarceration rates amongst them are rising despite a falling crime rate, according to the report. This points to policy and the lack of action on the judicial side, said Demers, adding that Saskatchewan courts have failed to acknowledge R. v. Gladue, 1999 the Supreme Court ruling which considers colonial history factors and proportional sentencing on an individual basis. Other provinces successfully use Gladue principals but Saskatchewan judges don’t receive training for it.

 

Saskatchewan prisons have been over maximum capacity since 2010. “Nothing positive, proactive, or substantial is being done to address the problem,” said Demers, stating that both Corrections and the Ministry of Justice need to act. The report suggests pretrial screening and alternative court options to greatly reduce prisoner return rates and overcrowding, among many other things.

 

“It could be changed if we adopted evidence-based policies,” said Enoch, adding that “the law and order agenda has run its course. It gives me hope that we will end this failed experiment and perhaps move towards something more humane.”