The Pallister government must act quickly to defuse a looming overcrowding crisis in the province’s jails that is putting the safety of inmates and correctional staff at risk, NDP MLA Andrew Swan said today.
“The number of people in our jails has steadily climbed in the last five months but the Pallister government has not recognized the need to hire more full-time correctional staff or prosecutors and has actually slowed down the hiring and training of Sheriff’s officers,” Swan said. “The government has also refused to say whether it will build a new jail in Dauphin or expand programs such as mental-health and drug courts to divert people from jail. Meanwhile, five people have died in the Winnipeg Remand Centre this year.”
According to numbers made public by the Justice Department on Oct. 30, the number of adult inmates in provincial jails and the remand centre has increased by 182 since June, bringing the total number to 2,555. The jail system was designed to hold 2,010 inmates, which means the level of overcrowding has increased by 50 per cent since June.
The department also confirmed on Oct. 30 that not a single extra position has been added to deal with the overcrowding and the government isn’t recruiting any new full-time correctional officers or Crown attorneys, Swan said. Furthermore, the government has put off construction of new jails and has postponed a plan to fill 16 vacant Sheriff’s officer positions, Swan noted.
“One answer to relieving pressure on the correctional system is to divert cases involving non-violent offenders but the Justice Department has confirmed they have no mandate to expand mental-health courts or drug courts or to increase the capacity of bail supervision in Manitoba,” Swan said. “The only action has been in restorative justice, where justice officials have been compiling a list of community partners, which has taken half a year and is not complete.”
“Unless this government acts quickly, this crisis will continue to fester and make our jails very dangerous places for staff and inmates,” Swan said. “Manitobans have serious concerns about the deaths in custody under its watch and this government must act.”