Manitoba government ends employment training program for provincial inmates

By the end of this month, the carpentry shop and graphic arts at Milner Ridge Correctional Centre, the carpentry shop at Brandon Correctional Centre, the computer, tailor and upholstery areas at Headingley Correctional Centre along with agriculture and carpentry at Agassiz Youth Centre will be shut down.

Officials say the program was underutilized because average jail stay only 52 days

The employment training programs at 4 correctional institutions in Manitoba will finish by the end of this month. (Shutterstock)

A program that taught more than 75 adult and youth offenders marketable skills at four correctional institutions in Manitoba is being dissolved by the Pallister government, CBC has learned.

The ManCor Prison Industries program was designed to teach offenders marketable trades to increase their chances of getting a job after they are released.

The decision to shutter the program at the end of this month is being called "short-sighted" by the Opposition NDP and has inmate advocates questioning what the province will do in its wake.

"We've seen the benefit for these kinds of programs and the trend over the last few years ... has been to close some of these programs and to have less opportunities for people to get employment-related skills," said John Hutton, the executive director of the John Howard Society, citing the recent closure of prison farms across Canada.

"I would encourage the province to to take a look at what they're doing and whether there might be other programs that could be put in place."

The soon-to-be cancelled program included:

  • a carpentry shop and graphic arts shop at Milner Ridge Correctional Centre.
  • carpentry and garden programs at Brandon Correctional Centre.
  • gardening, carpentry, animal husbandry and butchering programs at Agassiz Youth Centre.
  • a computer refurbishment shop, upholstery shop, tailor shop and blanket program at Headingley Correctional Centre.

The bicycle repair shop at Headingley Correctional Centre will remain open.

The John Howard Society's John Hutton says he hopes that the province has something to replace the program that trains inmates while incarcerated. (CBC News )
The government claims the programs were underutilized and that the average length of stay of 52 days for inmates meant few could take advantage.

Ending the program is expected to save the government about $920,000 a year and free up 11 positions that will be redeployed within the Corrections Department.

The province says its focus is on their Responsible Reintegration Initiative, which sees inmates who have been deemed low-risk get a temporary absence from custody so they can serve the remainder of their sentences in the community under supervision.

"Getting offenders the support they need in the community has proven to be more effective than under-utilized programs administered within correctional facilities," Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said in a prepared statement. 

Manitoba has had the highest adult incarceration rate of all provinces for seven years in a row, Statistics Canada figures say.

Hutton says it doesn't have to be all or nothing and that inmates benefit from obtaining skills while incarcerated and learning more after they are released. Both lead to a reduction in recidivism, he says.

"I see no reason why they can't do both, have somebody start getting some employment-related skills while they're still in custody and continue to get employment related skills after their release," he said.

'Isn't going to help them': union

The union which represents the employees affected by the decision said it will have a negative impact on inmates ability to reintegrate with society after they are released.

"You know it's programs like these ones that help the inmates to figure out to make better choices to learn a trade to when they get out of jail they can actually start a life and get gainful employment and actually contribute to society," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU).

"It definitely isn't going to help them."

St. Johns MLA Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP justice critic, says she is not shocked by the decision to cut training for inmates, but surprised they would target youth detention centres. (Trevor Brine/CBC)
Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP's justice critic, said she was incensed that the government cut programming at the Agassiz Youth Centre. The centre houses more than 120 young offenders. 

"It is incredibly short-sighted on the part of the Pallister government," she said.

"Tragically it is not shocking that we see this Pallister government once again target some of Manitoba's most vulnerable and marginalized people.

"The cuts to training opportunities for youth. Who does that?"

About the Author

Kristin Annable

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Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca