A women’s bail program is scrambling for funding in the wake of provincial budget cuts.
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba, which runs bail and reintegration programs aimed at helping women stay out of jail, had its provincial government funding chopped by 20 per cent — one of many cuts made to several agencies in this spring’s budget.
The cuts are "disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable people in society, the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our province and at-risk women and girls," said Kristen Jones, president of Elizabeth Fry’s board of directors.
The John Howard Society of Manitoba, which runs similar programs for men involved in the criminal justice system, was also hit with a 20 per cent cut to funding for its core programs.
That organization is seeking support from the federal government to fill the gaps and plans to offer more services to prisoners on parole from federal correctional centres.
Manitoba Justice has yet to comment on the issue.
Jones said the Elizabeth Fry Society is trying to make ends meet so it doesn’t have to lay off staff.
She suggested the budget cuts strike at the core of the stability the not-for-profit agency tries to provide for women who are facing criminal charges or are about to be released from jail.
"All too often, we see women going straight from provincial institutions to the streets and then inevitably right back into provincial institutions if they don’t have appropriate support and planning. A lot of our clients don’t have a great deal of resources (and) they don’t have a great deal of family support or safe housing," she said.
There are roughly 306 women and 2,161 men in Manitoba jails. Advocates say it’s less expensive for the province to fund bail supervision programs than to incarcerate inmates.
Scott Newman, a spokesman for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, said Elizabeth Fry is one of the few agencies that offers programs specifically geared toward helping women stay out of jail.
"In a time when you’ve got serious overcrowding in custody, women waiting for their trial who can’t get out of jail because they don’t have enough community supports, you’re cutting the one place where you can get that kind of support for them. It’s a toxic cocktail for that kind of problem," he said, calling the budget cuts "regressive."
"The end result is we’re going to have more people in jail for a longer period of time and we’re going to have greater delays in the court system."
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