Calls to get remanded prisoners, some offenders out of Saskatoon jail intensify

More voices joined the chorus today calling on the province to significantly reduce jail populations.

Family of inmates and support groups say inmates face undue risk

Chantelle Reimer (left) is worrried about the health of her fiance, who she says is remanded because of a curfew breach. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

Chantelle Reimer is worried that her fiance is going to die in jail.

Reimer's partner, Tyler Magnus, is on remand at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. Magnus was originally charged with assault, but Reimer says that he's there now because of an alleged curfew breach.

She's on the phone with him every day and the news is often grim.

"There's no social distancing, the bunks are about two feet apart and he can touch shoulder-to-shoulder," she said Tuesday while picketing the main gate to the jail.

"He said he's feeling sick ... he's been in bed and coughing, sore throat, his eyes have been burning all week. He tested negative is what he said, but he's living with 16 other people who tested positive."

More than 130 staff and inmates at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 10 days.

Reimer went to the jail Tuesday and picketed outside the main gate. She wants the government to reduce the number of inmates in the jail.

"That's exactly why I'm going to stand out here and freeze because nobody's listening to them in there. They need somebody out here to help them," she said.

Reimer is not alone.

The union that represents Legal Aid staff said that people on remand are unfairly placed in danger.

In recent years, the number of people in jail on remand — charged, but still waiting for their case to be resolved — has increased to half the jail population, according to figures from the Ministry of Corrections and Policing.

Saskatchewan remands people at twice the national average, said Julia Quigley, president of CUPE 1949.

"In essence, these inmates have a bull's eye on their backs, and yet they are legally innocent," Quigley said 

The Saskatchewan branches of the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society, CLASSIC and Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Corrections and Public Prosecutions on Tuesday.

"We call for the immediate release of all prisoners, sentenced or remanded, who are elderly, immuno-compromised, non-violent, at low risk to re-offend, or otherwise likely to disproportionately suffer from complications of COVID-19. Outbreaks have been declared in several Saskatchewan facilities," it said.

"No court intends to hold a defendant in a setting where they are at significant risk of grave illness or death. No sentence is crafted to permit such a danger."

The Saskatoon jail went from zero to more than 130 cases in little more than a week.

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.