Manitoba

New policies have speeded up court cases with fewer people behind bars, province says

Manitoba's courts are processing more cases more quickly as a result of new policies the government says are reducing the backlog in the justice system. 

Average timeline for provincial court cases has dropped 11% in 2 years

A year after the province introduced its Criminal Justice System Modernization Strategy, fewer Manitobans are having their day in court. (Ryan Cheale/CBC)

Manitoba's courts are processing more cases more quickly as a result of new policies the government says are reducing the backlog in the justice system. 

The province released new statistics on Friday showing the average time it takes for court cases to reach their conclusion, among other measures.

It states the average time for a provincial court case to reach disposition slipped 11 per cent in two years, to 160 days in 2018-19 from 180 days in 2016-17. The number of days for Court of Queen's Bench matters to conclude decreased 19 per cent in the same time period, to 803 days in 2018-19 from 988 days in 2016-17.

The statistics show that while fewer adults are in custody, a significant portion of them are in remand, waiting for the justice system to run its course.

Diverting people from jail

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says the numbers show the province's plan to keep people out of jail, introduced in early 2018, is showing encouraging signs.

"We have a strategy and this plan is paying dividends, but I will admit we do have more work to do," Cullen said.

The statistics note that Manitoba averaged 2,105 adults in custody in 2018-19, which dropped 12 per cent from the year before. It is the lowest adult custody rate in the province since 2010-11.

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says youth recidivism remains an area of concern for him. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Of those people behind bars in 2018-19, 69 per cent of them are in remand — a percentage that has been relatively stagnant in recent years.

Cullen says he's worried about the number of youth who are reoffending, which is one reason the province is conducting a review of youth justice and its connection with child welfare. He hopes the report will shed light on why youth are bouncing between the two systems.

In the last quarter of 2018-19, nearly half of all youth in open custody reoffended within two years. The province averaged 146 youths in any form of custody in 2018-19.

Restorative justice at the centre

Cullen says Manitoba's leaner court system is due in part to the diversion of 5,000 cases last year to restorative justice or other measures. He said the province wants to increase the capacity of alternative justice measures.

He looks to restorative justice as a way to stop the rise of Indigenous men and women who are locked up. New data from Statistics Canada says Manitoba has the highest incarceration rate of any province at a rate of 231 per 100,000 people — and 75 per cent of those inmates are Indigenous.

"We recognize there's challenges," Cullen said.

The province also credited new policies encouraging Crown attorneys to review files earlier with bringing cases to conclusion earlier. As program linking offenders with supports, including housing, education and employment is also credited with enticing people away from crime.

"A key reason for our [custody] numbers going down, which would include those being held in remand, is because we're able to move these cases quicker through the judicial system," Cullen said.

The province committed to releasing annual statistics in 2018 when it released its criminal justice system modernization strategy. Cullen says the department would do one better by releasing quarterly statistics on the government website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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