Saskatoon jail conditions are threat to inmates and public

 — Oct. 19, 200719 oct. 2007

Rt. Rev. Rodney Andrews, Rev. Cynthia Halmarson and Most. Rev. Albert LeGatt. Special to The StarPhoenix, Friday, October 19, 2007

Following is the viewpoint of Andrews, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Saskatoon, Halmarson, Bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and LeGatt, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

We address this to our faith communities and to all persons of goodwill, confident that the concerns raised will resonate with your desire to create a society where human dignity is respected and public safety is ensured.

We are conscious that advocacy on behalf of the voiceless can quickly become a platform for those who wish to gain a political advantage. So it’s vitally important to state that we approached this issue in humility and resisted every attempt to lay blame.

While we recognize that all the correctional centres in Saskatchewan suffer from the same kind of challenges, we are most conscious of the conditions at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre (SCC) from where we draw the following examples.

We especially appreciate the hard work of correctional workers, the administrators in our correctional centres, personnel in the Justice Department and the volunteers with whom we work. In raising our concerns, we want to draw public attention to support all of their efforts to see our correctional centres better serve the public good.

Chief among the concerns that we share with our public servants are the living conditions in the correctional centres. In the past months, as many as 38 men have been housed in a gymnasium and are sleeping on mats on the floor at the SCC. Indeed, these accommodations are so inadequate that it sometimes has been necessary for these men to urinate in a container because they cannot access the washroom. We can only imagine the distress this causes for aging inmates who must use the washroom often.

We are further concerned about incarcerated people with serious mental illnesses. It is deeply disturbing to know that a man who is tormented by voices is locked up for 22 hours a day in an eight-foot by 10-foot cell. Our dismay turns to indignation when we learn that he has been held in this cell for the past six months because the SCC has no other way to ensure his safety.

The dire conditions to which we refer have been escalating for several years, as is evident from the 2002 Ombudsman’s report, Locked Out. This compressive study of our correctional centres recommended that steps be taken “to eliminate the need for double bunking and dormitories.”

This brings us to a second concern: effective programming for the inmates. It is profoundly disturbing that space once used for programming at SCC has been transformed into dormitories and that this has ended what little programming that had been offered. The past decade has witnessed a steady decline in the programming for inmates, to the point where the SCC offers virtually no rehabilitative options to the men incarcerated there.

The Ombudsman’s report highlighted the strategic plan articulated in 1998 by Saskatchewan Corrections, which was to revitalize programming for those in trouble with the law. While the need for improvements for programming and accommodations has been documented, the situation continues to worsen.

These realities require urgent attention and action.

It’s obvious that the conditions we describe are a violation of human dignity, but they also pose serious concerns for public safety.

Individuals motivated by sexual deviance, addictions, mental illness and rage need treatment. To incarcerate men in the conditions we describe and provide them with little or no rehabilitative programs simply intensifies their problems, with potentially devastating consequences for our communities.

Clearly, many issues have led to this dismal situation. While one might point to the consequences of increased gangs and drugs in our cities, it seems clear that the inability of the courts to manage the number of men placed in remand at correctional centres is of greater significance.

It is common for more than half of the population of the SCC to consist of men awaiting trial. Many never serve a day of sentenced time, either because they are not guilty or because they will have served their time in remand.

Surely, we need to determine more efficiently if these men are guilty and then implement a strategy to curb their destructive behavior. Reforms in this area may be more urgently needed than a new dorm to house all the men awaiting court.

We ask the public, especially the faithful of our communities, and all those who are directly charged with addressing these issues, to prayerfully consider how human dignity and public safety can be better served. This situation can be improved with public support and a vision toward the good of all those we serve.

A candlelight prayer vigil is planned for [Sunday, October 21st] at 7 p.m. in front of the SCC to ask for the much-needed improvements at our correctional centres. All are welcome.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Posted: Oct. 19, 2007 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: 2007, church leaders, criminal justice, Saskatoon, statements
Transmis : 19 oct. 2007 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : 2007, church leaders, criminal justice, Saskatoon, statements

  Previous post: Ancien article : Donald McCoid to Head ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
  Newer post: Article récent : Candlelight vigil at Saskatoon Correctional Centre