Corrections Saskatchewan is expanding with 144 new beds in a new unit at the Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centre.
The unit is the largest expansion of correctional beds in Saskatchewan’s history. To sustain the section there was a hiring spree in the facility, boosting the number of workers to 300, including program staff, teachers and elders.
The jail, which has been overcrowded for over two years, according to staff, is now able to more comfortably house 400 inmates, half remanded and half sentenced.
The new addition, known as ‘unit five’, will be filled next week with only remanded inmates who have shown good behavior.
The new, more open concept space will run on a basis of trust between inmates and correction workers (CWs), with workers spending their shifts within the main living spaces, not surrounded by glass or any other protective measures.
CW Wes Elder said this allows them to be in total control of every situation.
“When staff (can) control the inmates, rather than the inmates controlling one another, you take away the ability for the ‘heavys’ to run the unit,” Elder said. “Because the CW fulfills the role of the leader of the unit, you take away the problems that come with power struggles. When inmates are in staff sight, they are far less likely to behave unacceptably.”
The building, constructed in 1981, has had upgrades to other units, but the latest is based on other facilities in the southern United States.
“It’s the evolution of corrections,” Elder said.
Missing the ‘static security’ elements—like physical boundaries, fences, and gates—the CWs must use other, some would say more effective, tools.
“One of the tools that I talked about here was ‘dynamic security’, the ability to talk to inmates,” Elder said. “The best weapon a guard has is his mouth. In this unit, the staff (will) sit right out in the day-room area. Access to your cells comes right off your day room. Now, staff (will be) sitting right out there with them 24-7.”
Elder said the response from staff has been largely positive, and those who will be stationed there are excited for the change.
“I’ve worked here 27 years and I’ve never had a chance to work in a brand new, clean facility like here,” Elder said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
The new section also boasts an efficient video court area, so inmates required to make appearances don’t have to be transported to other cities. This will cut costs and hazards the Ministry of Justice said. The new building is also a huge relief to other sections of the facility, which the Ministry refers to as “non-traditional contingency living spaces”.
Inmates in the new unit will be moved from those temporary stations in the main building. Since they’ve been living in programming rooms, the programming has been modified to half days, and now can be fully reinstated. The three programming spaces used for housing normally hold GED classes, grade school classes, addictions services and more.
The facility will help manage the entire inmate population throughout the province, Minister of Policing and Corrections for the Government of Saskatchewan Christine Tell said..
Despite criticism on the current system, Tell stands by their solutions.
“We are able to manage the current inmate population in the province of Saskatchewan,” Tell said. “That is not to say that the populations within our facilities aren’t challenging: they are challenging.”
Still, she admits they have enough space for current offenders, but possibly not many more.
“We cannot continue and will not continue to build facilities,” Tell said. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problems in the province.”
Instead, she said they’ll work harder to keep people out of the facility by expanding hubs and other services.