Saskatoon

Innovative Man. remand program could decrease overcrowding in Sask. jails

An inmate advocacy group says a program in Manitoba could ease Saskatchewan's overcrowded jail system.

Provincial auditor estimates 51% more inmates since 2006, mainly due to remand

Manitoba's John Howard Society says its remand program is saving money by keeping people out of jail. (Shutterstock)

An inmate advocacy group says a program in Manitoba could ease Saskatchewan's overcrowded jail system.

We're finding a lower conviction rate of those that are in custody.- John Hutton, executive director of John Howard Society of Manitoba

For the past four years, Manitoba's John Howard Society has run a remand diversion program. It places inmates waiting for trial in a smaller residence run by John Howard, and eventually into the community if they prove to be trustworthy.

"Similar to the situation in Saskatchewan, we have a very high number of people on remand," said executive director John Hutton. "They're still innocent people. They haven't gone to court to have the case against them heard and they're not serving a sentence."

In a report released in December, Saskatchewan's provincial auditor said the Ministry of Justice needs to come up with a long-term plan on jail overcrowding. According to auditor Judy Ferguson, the province's adult inmate population has grown 51 per cent since 2006. Since then, there has been a 104-per-cent increase in the number of remanded inmates.

As a result, Hutton believes the program could work here.

Success in Manitoba

John Howard runs a bail residence program in Winnipeg with 26 beds. Men designated medium to high risk spend their time taking programming there as opposed to a provincial jail. As well, up to 10 other men in the program live in the community while awaiting trial.

He said the system has proven to work.

"They're much less likely to breach their conditions and more likely to observe the conditions of their bail when they're released into the community," Hutton said. "We're finding a lower conviction rate of those that are in custody and I don't think that's much of a surprise."

Hutton also said the program is considerably cheaper than keeping people on remand.

"It's about half of what it costs to keep someone in custody," he said, noting the John Howard Society's project costs $700,000 a year.

"To put that into perspective, that would be about the equivalent of keeping 10 individuals in custody for a year."

Hutton said the Saskatchewan government is interested in the program. He has already met with Saskatchewan's John Howard Society, and will be travelling to Regina in a few weeks to talk with Ministry of Justice officials.

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition, Saskatoon Morning