As a Saskatchewan inmate continues a three-month-long hunger strike protesting her living conditions, provincial data shows three of Saskatchewan’s four secure adult correctional centres are currently overcapacity.
The female custody Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert, at which Faith Eagle’s hunger strike began in September, is 49 inmates over capacity, housing 215 inmates Thursday with an operational capacity of 166.
As of Thursday, Prince Albert Correctional Centre housed 498 inmates with an operational capacity of 496.
Saskatoon Correctional Centre housed 510 inmates with an operational capacity of 507.
Regina Correctional Centre housed 713 inmates Thursday with an operational capacity of 782.
In an interview with Global News last week, Eagle said her protest was sparked by foul-smelling water, cold cells, dirty air vents and infrequent visits from guards.
Referencing an incident in which a fellow Indigenous inmate was told she couldn’t braid her hair, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate woman said she’d also like to see more Indigenous cultural programming for staff and inmates, as well as greater access to elders.
Asked about the protest, Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell referenced the jail’s population.
“What she has to say is important, and we need to listen,” she said at the legislature last week. “There’s not a lot that we can do about it. This is Pine Grove Correctional facility. It is over capacity.”
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Speaking this week at a Regina Police Service funding announcement, Tell said a coming expansion of remand capacity at Saskatoon Correctional Centre should relieve pressure (though the $120-million investment has generated criticism).
On Thursday, 56 per cent of adult offenders in custody in Saskatchewan were on remand.
She also said that, to an extent, overpopulation at provincial jails is out of her ministry’s control.
“The courts put them in remand, and we don’t have the ability for saying ‘no room at the inn,’” she said.
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“Corrections has contingency space in all of its correctional facilities to deal with situations where we are over our operational capacity,” Ministry of Corrections spokesperson Dustin Gill added in an emailed statement.
“The primary concern in any of the province’s correctional facilities is the safety and security of staff, offenders and the public.”
Overcrowding isn’t a new issue in Saskatchewan jails.
In 2016, Saskatchewan’s then-provincial auditor Judy Ferguson noted significant 10-year growth in the province’s inmate population driven by those on remand.
At the time, Ferguson said the overpopulation was putting pressure on inmates and staff, including by reducing recreational space and limiting the effectiveness of programming.
John Howard Society of Saskatchewan CEO Shawn Fraser, meanwhile, said Thursday there are ways the province can help resolve the issue.
Fraser said a major John Howard society goal is zero recidivism; he said inmates need access to social services in the form of income, employment and housing support to successfully reintegrate into society.
A 2016 Statistics Canada study found that among those in Saskatchewan whose first police contact took them into correctional supervision, 73 per cent eventually had re-contact with police.
“There’s oftentimes a gap before they can apply for social assistance, so they leave prison, and they have to wait to apply, so there’s potentially a few weeks where they’re living without an income,” he said.
“You can imagine that sort of circumstance can be ripe for people turning to crime and ending up back in prison.”
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