Members of St. Thomas More College’s Just Youth organization in Saskatoon recently met with justice officials from the provincial government. From left: Deputy Minister of Justice J. Glen Gardner, Jessica Froehlich, Minister Gordon Wyant, Ana Meckelborg, and Angela Couture .(Photo by Cooper Muirhead)
SASKATOON — St. Thomas More College student leaders met with Saskatchewan’s Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant and Deputy Minister J. Glen Gardner on March 10 to discuss issues around phone access in provincial prisons. The meeting, which took place at the college, featured members of STM’s Just Youth Group, as well as students involved with Canadian Roots Exchange, a national organization dedicated to improving settler-indigenous relations through grassroots reconciliation initiatives.
Wyant and Gardner sat with the students for an hour and a half, discussing systemic problems in the province’s corrections system, speaking to the students’ concerns about phone access for inmates in Saskatchewan’s correctional facilities.
Students expressed some concern about the government’s use of a privatized phone system in Saskatchewan prisons, but their main focus was in the human cost of practically depriving inmates of contact with their families. As phone calls can be prohibitively expensive, the system by which inmates set up phone accounts is needlessly complicated, and corrections officers are often not adequately trained to assist inmates; prisoners find themselves increasingly isolated from family and community while they serve out their sentences.
Combating this sense of isolation is a benefit not only for the inmate and that person’s family, but for the larger community as well. According to a report submitted to the ministry by a coalition of community-based organizations led by CLASSIC (Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc.), regular contact with family and friends allows inmates to integrate back into society much more easily upon release.
The coalition found in their research that this connection to community helps reduce recidivism rates by between 13 and 25 per cent. Moreover, children with incarcerated parents are less likely to act out or follow their parent into a life of criminality if they are allowed to maintain regular contact with that parent.
Members of the ministry took these concerns seriously, discussing the need to pursue restorative justice initiatives in the province generally, as well as the particular recommendations made in the community coalition’s report. These changes would not only improve the lives of inmates and their families, they said, but also help address important economic and security concerns.
Equally significant to Wyant and Gardner, though, was the desire to lower crime rates by identifying and addressing issues around why people enter the justice system in the first place. The deputy minister noted that the justice system in the province sometimes lags behind other ministries in terms of its ability to develop evidence-based policy, as historically the ministry has not closely tracked how people enter and exit the justice system. Both relatively new to the Ministry of Justice, Wyant and Gardner hope to begin to address some of these issues.
This meeting with the Minister of Justice serves as a follow up action for STM’s Just Youth group, who co-hosted a panel on the issue of phone access and privatization in provincial prisons with STM’s Engaged Learning Office in February. Students left the meeting feeling that their concerns had been addressed, if not alleviated, and hopeful that the Ministry of Justice would start taking concrete steps toward increasing access to the phone systems in provincial prisons.