Saskatchewan justice minister wants number of people on costly remand reduced

Saskatchewan’s justice minister says his government needs to find ways to reduce the number of people who are on remand while awaiting trial. File / Global News

Justice Minister Gord Wyant says Saskatchewan needs to find ways to reduce the number of people held in custody while awaiting trial.

Wyant says 60 per cent of nearly 1,900 people in custody in the province are in remand.

“Short stays in remand are expensive and there’s … some cause to think that there’s a lot of people on remand that don’t necessarily need to be there, because they’re not a threat to public safety,” Wyant said Thursday at the legislature.

There are also a number of people on, what Wyant called, extended remand stays.

He said he’s asked the deputy minister of corrections to work with the prosecutions branch to see if there’s a way to get those people to trial as quickly as possible, “because they are an expense to our system.”

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The number of people in custody is being questioned because Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said Tuesday that the province’s budget deficit is going to be higher than projected, in part because incarcerations have increased.

An email from the government shows the average daily number of people in custody this year has been 1,871 – up from 1,710 last year. The average cost per inmate is about $62,000 a year.

That means it’s costing the province almost $10 million more for the added 160 inmates.

That money could be better used elsewhere if the number of people in jail could be reduced, Wyant said.

“Certainly it’s a significant number when it comes to the overall budget and so we want to do what we can to reduce that.”

He suggested the province could also look at programs that divert people away from court and at why people are in remand in the first place.
READ MORE: Saskatchewan government investigates after 13 inmates escaped this year

The 2016-2017 budget projected a $434-million deficit. Doherty said he has not yet seen the final numbers, so he won’t estimate how much higher the deficit might be.<

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The mid-year budget update is expected by the end of November.

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