The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan is asking the provincial government to reconsider its plans to expand the remand centre at Saskatoon’s jail.
The organization set up an online petition that reads, “By directing $120 million to expand a prison, the Government of Saskatchewan is signalling to its residents that there is always funding for increasing policing and prisons but no money to address the root and contributing factors of over-incarceration in this province: poverty & homelessness, institutional racism, lack of mental health and addictions supports.”
Its executive director told Global News she hopes the province would consider funding community support programming and alternatives to jail time.
“Putting people in a remand centre for up to a year (who) have not been charged is not the right thing to do. We believe in decarceration and alternatives to incarceration,” Sandra Stack said.
The province announced the expansion on June 17.
It would see an additional two units built, which would increase the capacity by 427 people.
The province said funding for expanded jails and community services are not mutually exclusive and there is a need to house individuals who pose a threat to public safety.
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“Our provincial correctional centres are consistently at or over capacity, and in mid-March of this year, we hit a record number of offenders in custody. We can no longer adapt existing infrastructure at correctional facilities to house convicted and remanded offenders,” read a statement from Corrections Minister Christine Tell.
“We are committed to working with our partners across other areas of government, and at different levels of government, on crime prevention initiatives.”
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) is calling on the minister to resign citing the $120-million plan in a year the province is calculating a $2.4 billion deficit.
“The Saskatchewan government is completely out of touch and has not even begun to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in our jails,” said national vice-chief Kim Beaudin in a press release.
Earlier this year, a report from Canada’s correctional investigator found three-out-of-four provincial inmates are Indigenous.
“Have they read the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report at all? The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report? Or are they simply choosing to bury their heads in the sand? This money could be used towards treatment centres and educational opportunities to keep people out of jail, and to help those already imprisoned.”
The Elizabeth Fry Society added this raises questions as to how the province funded the remand centre and denied a $1.3-million request from AIDS Saskatoon for its supervised consumption site.
“We need to dream of compassion. We need to dream (about) putting every human being at the nucleus and looking at every human being as a human being and not as a number,” Stack said.
As of June 23 at 5 p.m., about 1,000 people have signed the petition.