NWT inmate counts lowest in over 20 years

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NWT inmate counts lowest in over 20 years

The North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. There are only 78 people left in custody in the NWT, down from 196 in 2013-2014.

The number of people incarcerated in the Northwest Territories is at its lowest in over 20 years. This trend is observed across Canada following the COVID-19 pandemic. Some correctional institutions are almost empty.

In the largest correctional facility in the NWT, the North Slave Correctional Complex, more than half of the beds are unoccupied. Currently, 60 detainees are incarcerated there out of the 148 places available.

The women's wing at Fort Smith Correctional Center, which was built two years ago, has only one inmate. Built in 2019 at a cost of $23.6 million, it can accommodate 24 women.

As everywhere in the country, the dramatic drop in the number of detainees is due to the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisons began to release low-risk offenders nearing the end of their sentences, and courts expanded the range of accused persons who were released on bail.

Our facility is considered a facility [for a] vulnerable population. So having an outbreak in the facility would be very detrimental and pose a significant risk, says North Slave Correctional Complex Superintendent Greg Paul.

Greg Paul is the Warden of the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife.

At the start of the pandemic, 37,000 people were in prison in Canada. Three months later, in June 2020, the number of detainees was 32,000.

It was when pandemic-related restrictions began to be lifted that most entities across the country began to see their inmate counts approaching pre-pandemic levels. But not the Northwest Territories.

In the NWT, 148 people over the age of 18 were incarcerated as of March 2020. Currently, 78 people are behind bars. Greg Paul explains that the vast majority, 80%, are on remand, which means they have been charged with a crime, been denied bail, and x27;they are awaiting trial.

Some believe that the sustained decline in the number of inmates in NWT prisons is largely due to two recent Supreme Court decisions of Canada.

The first is a 2020 case, R. v. Zora, in which Judge Sheilah Martin said that, instead of imposing sweeping restrictions on defendants, courts must tailor bail conditions to suit individuals and their circumstances.

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Lance McClean, an Alberta lawyer who often works for legal aid in the NWT, says he feels the decision should be brought up in almost every hearing on bonding, particularly with regard to the types of conditions imposed on persons.

Alberta lawyer Austin Corbett, who also works for legal aid, also attributes this to a 2017 case, R. v. Antic. In that decision, the Supreme Court said defendants should only be remanded in the most serious cases.

It is heartening to see the number of people on remand decreasing in the Northwest Territories, as the majority of people across the country who are currently in prison are incarcerated before they have been convicted of an offence, Austin Corbett points out.

Even with half the number of inmates, the Northwest Territories actually spends more on corrections than it did five years ago. year.

In fiscal year 2018-19, the Government of the NWT spent $35.8 million on corrections. In the 2022-23 budget, this figure was $39.4 million.

About three-quarters of this money is spent on operating and staffing the five correctional facilities in the Northwest Territories. Over the past three years, the number of employees at these facilities has remained the same at 240 full-time employees.

Greg Paul says that even with less prisoners, management of a prison the size of the North Slave Correctional Complex remains unchanged.

With information from Hilary Bird

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