Saskatchewan among the highest incarceration rates in Canada

When it comes to putting people behind bars, Saskatchewan ranks as among the leading provinces in Canada.

16.21 per cent more people behind bars compared to 20 years ago

Saskatchewan's incarceration rates have gone up will Canadian crime rates have gone down (Global Panorama, Flickr cc)

When it comes to putting people behind bars, Saskatchewan ranks among the leading provinces in Canada.

In 2013-14, Saskatchewan imprisoned 195 people per 100,000. Comparatively, Canada's rate was 86.53 people per 100,000.

Only Manitoba and the three northern territories had a higher rate than Saskatchewan.

Using data provided by Statistics Canada, CBC News learned incarceration rates in Saskatchewan have also continued to increase over the past 20 years, dating back to 1993-94. 

It's sadly not a surprise.- Shaun Dyer, John Howard Society of Saskatchewan on increasing incarceration rates

While Canada's overall incarceration rate has dropped four per cent since then, the prairie province has gone in the opposite direction. It has increased its incarceration rate by 16.21 per cent over the same time period. 

An assumption that these rising numbers is an indication of more crimes being committed would not be accurate. 

A report earlier this year by Statistics Canada stated that the serious crime rate (which includes violent acts like homicide and assault) across Canada has been steadily dropping for the past 11 years. It also concluded that serious crime in general fell to its lowest relative level since 1969. 

'Tough on crime' culture

"It's sadly not a surprise," said Shaun Dyer of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan. The John Howard Society is a national community-based organization that studies causes of crime and advocates for changes in the criminal justice system. 

Dyer added that a "tough on crime" approach in policy has been prevalent in western Canadian history, but said it is not one that solves systemic problems.

While Canada's overall incarceration rate has dropped, Saskatchewan has increased over the same time period. (CBC)

"[Increased incarceration] historically both [in Saskatchewan], in Canada, in North America and actually around the world has shown to increase crime, increase the cost of incarceration and in the end, make people, communities less safe," Dyer said.

Glen Luther, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed and said a change in culture and attitude toward crime is among the many steps Saskatchewan needs to make.

"It appears that we've convinced ourselves that by being 'tough on crime' we will somehow make a difference in those crime rates. And the social science simply doesn't support that," said Luther. 

No easy answers

Both legal experts said there is not one solution that can fix the problem of incarceration rates that keep climbing. Instead, they said it will require stakeholders to help at every level — community, justice system, provincial — to make a difference.

Dyer pointed to the Saskatoon Police as an example of an organization that is thinking about crime and its root causes differently.

"They are emphasizing the need for upstream thinking, where we're dealing with socioeconomic, social determinants of health at a ground level. Like a lack of access to education, a lack of access to mental health support, addictions, family breakdown and poverty."

Luther added "it is part of the policy of the government of Saskatchewan and the prosecution service." 

"The solutions are complex, the solutions aren't simple."


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