August 15, 2020

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Jails looking less crowded

Numbers have only 'plateaued': union

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/9/2013 (2521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Stubborn overcrowding in the province's jails appears to be on the decrease -- some argue it's only levelled off -- as the province adds more cells to the system and moves to replace the 100-year-old Dauphin Correctional Centre.

The province says the roughly three per cent decline in the number of inmates in provincially run jails, including the Winnipeg Remand Centre, this year from the same time last year is a sign its initiatives to bring those numbers down are working.

However, the union that represents correctional officers says overcrowding is still a major security threat.

"I would just say the numbers have plateaued," Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky said. "They've just institutionalized overcrowding now."

Gawronsky also said while the number of inmates housed in the province's seven jails may have peaked, it's no reason for the province to back off its plans to get more offenders through the court system as quickly as possible, like more on bail supervision than on custodial remand, or to delay construction of the Dauphin jail. The new jail was announced last January.

Attorney General Andrew Swan said an already-serviced site has been selected for the new facility and its design is now in the planning stages. The old Dauphin Correctional Centre was built to handle about 50 men, but more recently counts have been at times pushing 100.

Swan also said despite efforts to reduce overcrowding -- there's about 70 fewer inmates now in the system over the past year -- overcrowding is still "critical."

"It remains a big challenge," he added. "The numbers indicate that we're improved."

The now-year-old Adult Corrections Capacity Review looked at what more the province can do to add more space to its jails and to reduce the likelihood of recidivist behaviour.

Over the past year, a 160-bed medium-security unit was completed at Milner Ridge and work is ongoing to expand The Pas Correctional Centre to add 40 new minimum- to low-medium-security bed spaces.

At Headingley Correctional Centre, a woods trades building was converted into a 64-bed living unit and two existing units were converted to house a new program called Winding River, which helps inmates deal with drug and alcohol addictions. It includes two dormitories and currently houses approximately 145 of Headingley's inmates.

Swan said a remaining challenge is to get more inmates on remand through the system by speeding up the approval process where accused can get a legal aid lawyer and more on bail supervision as administered by the John Howard Society. More offenders are also being diverted through the drug and mental-health courts, which focus more on treatment than punishment.

Those measures are easing pressure on the downtown Winnipeg Remand Centre, but only slightly.

"It is still full and then some," Swan said. "It's the first place people go."

Swan also said while there are fewer inmates on remand now than about two years ago, more has to be done. Those inmates remain in custody unable or unwilling to get bail before their trial date.

He said about 62 per cent of inmates in the system are now on remand, down from 70 per cent.

Progressive Conservative justice critic Reg Helwer said Swan could reduce the number of inmates on remand further by eliminating preliminary hearings and forcing more plea bargains.

"Is it necessary to have a preliminary hearing in any case?" Helwer said. "The government has had 14 years to deal with this and hasn't. It's going to take a lot of small things that get the numbers down."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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