Saskatoon pitches plan to keep Indigenous youth out of jail

A team from Saskatoon is off to Toronto to pitch what they hope is a $10-million idea.

$10M prize could help vision become reality

Stehpanie Yong and Jazz Pabla are in Toronto this week to pitch the Saskatoon idea in hopes of claiming a $10 million grant to make their vision become a reality. (CBC)

A team from Saskatoon is off to Toronto to pitch what they hope is a $10-million idea to keep Indigenous youth out of jail.

"It's a game changer," said Stephanie Yong in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

The pitch is part of Ottawa's Smart Cities Challenge, which will reward two ideas with a $10 million grant.   

Consider the problem

In the absence of a plan, they are making the wrong decisions.- Jazz Pabla 

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that in Saskatchewan 92 per cent of incarcerated male youth were Indigenous. That's the highest rate of all provinces.

"We are trying to figure out ways and patterns that we are seeing for in-crisis youth," Yong said.

"It's really the youth who at the centre of this challenge."

Help at your fingertips 

The Saskatoon team has been working with a group of Indigenous youth advisors, collecting their stories, trying to understand the day-to-day challenges they face.

"What we are recognizing is that in the absence of a plan, they are making the wrong decisions," said Jazz Pabla, the city's manager of technology.

"How do we provide the answers to their questions, right away?"

The idea to meet young people in a digital space has been evolving.

One thought was to give youth a smart phone with pre-installed applications that could connect them to community non-profits and first responders.

Now it may involve smart boards, or public computers, where a young person in crisis can simply pose a question and — with the assistance of artificial intelligence — receive a full answer that not only addresses immediate needs, but also anticipates future challenges.

Whatever the ultimate delivery method is, Pabla says the key is to put "this technology right in front of them so that they are making the right decisions."

Following the pitch this week, the Saskatoon team will continue to refine its vision to keep Indigenous young people out of jail and await a final decision.

The winners of the $10 million grants will be named in the New Year.

- with files from Saskatoon Morning 


Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.