Manitoba government ends employment training program for provincial inmates
Officials say the program was underutilized because average jail stay only 52 days
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.
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.
- Restorative justice at centre of Manitoba's new plan to keep people out of jail
- Low-risk inmates released early through Manitoba's new probation model
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."
"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?"