The provincial government is still contemplating the best path forward following a CBC report on overcrowding at Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert.
The facility is built to hold 188 inmates, but some have been forced to sleep in the gym after numbers swelled to 220. As of Wednesday, Oct. 23, there are 197 inmates in Pine Grove, according to an update provided by the Ministry of Corrections and Policing.
Prince Albert Carlton MLA and Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister Joe Hargrave said they’re looking at ways to reduce overcrowding, but haven’t set a definitive course of action.
“It’s being looked at as to what has to happen, to see whereabouts we’re at with ‘do we need to expand it or do we not,’” Hargrave said on Thursday. “We’re at our max capacity there now, but we can’t refuse people. The court sends them to jail and we have to take them, but we’ll be looking at ways we can make sure to deal with an overcrowding situation.”
Saskatchewan’s prison population tends to rise and fall throughout the year, and all facilities are required to use contingency space when that happens. Those spaces must meet safety, security and hygiene requirements before they can be used.
Expanding facilities like Pine Grove, which received a 30-cell expansion in 2013, is just one of the options on the table. Hargrave said they’re also focused on anti-crime measures and youth programs to help keep people out of the prison system in the first place.
“It’s unfortunate that we go through some ebbs and flow of people going into jail, but we all know that right now, crime is at a very high level, and not only in Prince Albert,” Hargrave said. “I hear everywhere I go—doors that I knock on, people that I talk to—that crime, driven mostly by the drug trade, is rampant, be it male or female. We’re trying to deal all that because that’s key. It’s not just about putting people in jail.”
In April, the provincial government provided a series of $20,000 grants to community based organizations as part of a Gang Violence Reduction Strategy. The West Flat Citizens Group in Prince Albert was one of 10 organizations to receive a grant.
Prince Albert Northcote NDP MLA Nicole Rancourt said this isn’t the first time she’s heard about crowding in Pine Grove. The facility was also overcapacity when she took a tour last year. Rancourt said she’s worried about safety concerns due to overcrowding, and suggested provincial and municipal governments ramp up their anti-gang strategies to help deal with the problem.
“Having more beds is not necessarily the issue,” she said on Thursday. “I think what we see is that our province is having a crisis right now with drugs and alcohol and gang issues, and we need to start looking and managing that issue.
“We know that is often times the root cause of some of the incarceration that happens, especially female incarceration, so we need to make sure that we have the programs available for individuals who are struggling before it gets to the point where they are engaging in criminal behavior.”
In the CBC report, Corrections and Policing spokesperson Drew Wilby said gang violence often keeps facilities like Pine Grove from using their cells as efficiently as possible. A recent example of this occurred at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre in August, where one inmate was hospitalized following numerous brawls, which reduced the number of available beds so inmates could be housed separately.