The society that helps women inmates is calling on the province to deal with the overcrowding at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert.
The facility currently has 212 prisoners, which is around 30 over capacity, while it is also housing 30 male prisoners in the gymnasium because of space shortages elsewhere due to renovations.
Sue Delanoy, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, said the stress levels are dangerous.
“The noise level gets up and the anxiety of people is heightened," Delanoy told paNOW. "There are a lot of people in our institutions who are suffering from mental health and addictions issues.”
She said the excess of people and the lack of a recreational space like the gym is creating stress for everyone involved.
“It makes for a very dangerous work environment, and it’s also not healthy for the women and their families,” she said. “Most of the women we work with are mothers, they’re separated from their children and they have high anxiety.”
Delanoy called on the province to deal with the issues forcing it to house male prisoners at Pine Grove but also wants more work to be done on alternatives to incarceration.
“People need to understand the prisons and jails people are sent to are the last institutions that cannot say ‘no’ to you,” she said. “People are there for a multitude of reasons, and it’s the sum of the failures of the other systems within our community and province.”
She also raised concerns that around half of all prisoners in institutions were there on remand and were not yet able to access any programs made available to someone serving a sentence.
Meanwhile the government said the renovations underway at sections of the men’s prisons in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert meant they needed the space at Pine Grove. Some prisoners were currently being housed in classrooms at the facility. Drew Wilby, executive director of communications with the Ministry of Corrections and Policing, was unable to say when that work would be completed.
But in the short term he was hopeful there would be an easing of the numbers because he said things were cyclical.
“We’ve seen a climb over the summer but we anticipate those numbers will come down as we approach the winter months,” Wilby said. “It’s getting cold and less crime is committed when it’s cold, so we’re hopeful they’ll come down as they normally have.”
While he expected an easing of the overcrowding, Wilby added the province is obligated to take people sent to them.
“As I’ve said before, we can’t put a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside of provincial correctional facilities; we take what the courts give us and what the police give us. We’re obligated to house individuals until someone tells us otherwise,” he said.
Asked if there would be any new prison construction, Wilby said the province would “continue to do assessments as we go forward and look at what our building capacity and what are needs are across the province.”
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