Every Manitoba jail over capacity: Inmates 'will be living in tents,' warns advocate
John Howard Society says province needs to step up efforts to keep people out of jail
Every provincially-run jail in Manitoba has more inmates than what each facility is rated to hold.
There are 2,555 inmates in seven facilities — the capacity for all Manitoba jails is 2,010 inmates.
"People will be living in tents at some point. There is just too many people going into the system and not enough people going out and the solution isn't to build more jails," said John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society.
Overcrowding is most severe at the Headingley Correctional Centre. The capacity is 549, but there are 842 inmates inside. Six other Manitoba jails are also overcrowded.
- Brandon Correctional Centre - 323 inmates (rated capacity 252).
- Dauphin Correctional Centre - 74 inmates (rated capacity 61).
- Milner Ridge capacity - 551 inmates (rated capacity 524)
- The Pas Correctional Centre - 180 inmates (rated capacity 114).
- Women's Correctional Centre - 244 inmates (rated capacity 221).
- Winnipeg Remand Centre 351 inmates (rated capacity 289).
The Manitoba government has made attempts in the past two years to lessen the backlog but despite those efforts, there's been a seven per cent increase in the inmate population since 2013.
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The prisoner-rights advocate said part of the increase in population at Manitoba jails is federal tough-on-crime legislation passed several years ago and the previous provincial NDP government's embrace of some of those decisions.
Manitoba's Auditor General produced a report in 2014 looking at managing the adult offenders. It found that adding new beds to the system was expensive and wasn't keeping up with the growing population. The Department added 651 beds with an increased capacity of 52 per cent since 2008 at a cost of $182 million.
The number of prisoners grew and the salaries and operating costs to manage the offenders grew by 129 per cent, totaling $173 million in 2012/13.
Hutton said the province has to step up its efforts on programs to keep people out of system wherever safe and possible.
"We really need to have a serious conversation about alternatives to incarceration. Making bail easier, being less hard-nosed. Manitoba has the highest incarceration rates in the country," Hutton said.
Hutton thinks the province also has to become more tolerant on breaches for bail conditions.
NDP justice critic Andrew Swan believes those are the kind of programs that need more resources and attention.
"The mental health court is operating. We have said it should be expanded. It should be broadened to other places in Manitoba. We started the Winnipeg drug treatment court. Again, a great program. It should be expanded," Swan said.
Manitoba Justice; We are trying
The deputy minister of Manitoba Justice appeared before a legislative committee this week to explain, among other things, how the department was coping with the growing population
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Manitoba Justice has also implemented the Intensive Case Assessment Process (ICAP) unit in prosecutions, the spokesperson said. They provide an initial assessment of cases as soon as charges are laid, identifying less serious matters that can be resolved more quickly to free up resources to deal with more serious criminal matters.
Other changes will be implemented in the near future, the spokesperson added.
Responding to questions in the Legislature Tuesday, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the problems didn't happen overnight and blamed "17 years of NDP mismanagement."
But Stefanson did admit there was a "crisis" in the system and vowed action.
"That is why I have called on the department to do a review from the beginning to the end of the justice system to ensure we create the efficiencies, to ensure we can reduce the number of people waiting on remand to alleviate some of the populations within our system," Stefanson told question period.