Pine Grove overcrowded, housing male inmates

Pinegrove Provincial Correctional Centre. PHOTO: BRADLEY RUSZKOWSKI

Overcrowding and construction in the province’s jails have left Pinegrove Correctional Centre over capacity, and about 30 male prisoners housed in the women’s facility gym.

Pinegrove is the province’s only full female correctional facility. It houses both remanded and sentenced female prisoners. It has an operational capacity of about 180, yet as of Thursday, 212 women were housed there. An additional 30 men who couldn’t be housed in any of Saskatchewan’s men’s facilities due to ongoing renovations were also staying in Pinegrove, housed in the gym.

“That’s not an ideal situation for us,” said Department of Corrections and Policing spokesperson Drew Wilby.

“We need to expand into some contingency areas, such as additional classrooms and other places within the facility.”

Pinegrove is located in Prince Albert north of the river, by the west entrance into Little Red River Park.

Wilby said that it’s not the first time Pinegrove has had to put people in the gym.

The reason men are being housed at the women’s facility is that three units in men’s facilities, one each in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, are under construction. Wilby said that unit three in Regina is undergoing fire suppression work, while one unit in Saskatoon goes down for repairs each year. The unit under construction in Prince Albert is expected to be back online shortly.

Unfortunately, Wilby said, there isn’t much that can be done.

“We can’t put a no vacancy sign out in provincial correctional facilities,” he said. “We take what the courts and the police give us. We’re obligated to house those individuals until someone tells us otherwise.”

In the meantime, he said, his department is working with its partners to asses which offenders need to be housed in the facility, and which can be dealt with in the community, or through other mechanisms. The department works with the police, the courts, health, education and social services to help bring down the number of people who come into the system.

Sue Delanoy, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan expressed concern about the number of people housed in the jail.

She told CBC News that crowding can increase tensions among inmates and with staff, which can lead to mental health issues, and also an increased risk of violence. She said that months without a gym is making the problem worse.

The Herald reached out to Delanoy, but she wasn’t available for comment.

Delanoy told CBC that a real solution would require improving housing programs, addictions treatment and job training. Better services, she said, would keep women from being ailed in the first place.

“We’ve got to start looking at alternatives and that’s community supports,” Delanoy said. “We’d like to see a shift in thinking.”

This isn’t the first time there has been overcrowding at Pine Grove. The Herald has reported on overcrowding both there and at Prince Albert Correctional — the men’s prison located in the south end of the city near the casino — in the past. Wilby said his department is consistently evaluating what resources the province has and what it needs. When questioned, he didn’t say whether there are plans in place to further expand the prisons or to build a new facility. He did, however, say he expects those numbers to go down as winter rolls around.

“IN April we tend to see a spike, and again in October. It’s getting cold. Less crime is committed when it’s cold,” he said.

“This year has been a bit different, where we’ve seen some of a climb over the summer. We do anticipate those numbers will come down as we approach the winter months, but we will do those assessments. We’ll take a look at what our building capacity is, what our needs are across the province and what that looks like.”

A new 60-bed addition as constructed at Pine Grove about four years ago, while a 144-bed addition was opened at Prince Albert Correctional Centre in 2015.