NW Week

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Covid-19 has empty the jails in the Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories

Key Takeaways:

  • The young offender unit in Yellowknife has a capacity of 25 people.
  • One person is currently being held there, according to the territory’s justice minister.

The same pattern can be found in the jails of the Northwest Territories: none of the five facilities are operating at total capacity, an extraordinary situation attributed primarily to Covid-19 countermeasures and consequences.

RJ Simpson, the justice minister, said 55 inmates in Yellowknife’s central jail, the North Slave Correctional Complex, can house 148. Six inmates are housed in Hay River’s jail, which has a capacity of 36. The men’s jail in Fort Smith has eight inmates in a building designed for 21, and the women’s facility has four inmates in a building designed for 23.

Overall, the territory currently holds 74 inmates in a system that can safely house 253, according to Simpson.

When the Auditor General of Canada inspected NWT corrections just over a decade ago, the territory’s jails had an average occupancy of 203 inmates in buildings that could hold 270.

On Monday, Charlene Doolittle, deputy minister of justice, stated that the current figures are “historically low.” “Certainly, since Covid began in early 2020, our numbers began to decrease and have remained quite low,” Doolittle told MLAs.

As the territory examines its jail spending, the question now is whether the new, lower number can be maintained or whether jail populations will soon return to pre-pandemic levels.

The drop in occupancy is due to policy changes brought about by Covid-19. As the pandemic spread, “Corrections, and especially the courts, made a conscious effort to try to reduce the number of inmates,” Simpson told MLAs on Monday. That effort aimed to reduce Covid-19’s ability to spread among inmates.

A recent contributor to low occupancy has been a backlog in court cases, with many cases suspended for months and yet to be resolved. As a result, other parts of Canada have seen similar drops in occupancy.

“Whether or not those numbers rise again remains to be seen, but I believe we have seen the numbers remain low, and there have been no repercussions in the communities,” the minister added.

“This massive decline is very recent, and it’s a little early to make those decisions.”

Source: Cabinradio News

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