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"We could turn the Saskatoon Correctional Centre into a real correctional centre, into a healing place, a healing environment." Father André Poilièvre

Photo: Brad Christianson, Ivan Campeau, Austin McEwan and Father André Poilièvre. (Adrian Cheung)


A group of former inmates says jails could help people deal with the issues that helped pull them into the justice system in the first place. But it takes a change in thinking.

Saskatchewan is putting or keeping more people in jail than nearly all other provinces in the country.

Saskatchewan among the highest incarceration rates in Canada

In 2013-14, Saskatchewan’s incarceration rate was 195 people per 100,000 people. Comparatively, Canada’s rate was 86.53 people per 100,000 people.

Father André Poilièvre works with former gang members in Saskatoon. He said the Saskatoon Correctional Centre is failing to offer programs that help inmates.

“There are no programs in the jail that I know of at this time that are serious about rehabilitation. The inmates that go into the correctional centre in Saskatoon,” Poilièvre said. “It’s a warehouse. It’s a dead end environment. Any programs that are serious are very limited.”

He said there used to be two teachers in classrooms full time, but because of minimum sentences and a large number of people who are serving time in remand, there isn’t enough room.

“We could turn the Saskatoon Correctional Centre into a real correctional centre, into a healing place, a healing environment.”

“It’s about social justice,” Jorgina Sunn said. She has served time in jail and now works with Father Poilièvre at STR8 UP, a group that helps former gang members leave the criminal life.

“Where’s the justice, when you have a community of people — race, regardless, gender, regardless, sex, regardless — that are in fact hurting in this trap of incarceration, gangs, violence? It is, in fact, society’s problem.”

“When you don’t know another life, you don’t know another life.”

Brad Christianson has also spent time behind bars.

“It’s the knowing where to go, where to turn, how to get back into school, where to find a job, how to make a resume,” he said.

“Once again, it’s going to come back to having the options and knowing that if you do strive to be something better, that you can. It’s the knowing where to go and how to get there, is what the biggest issue is.”

Christianson said that people aim to thrive at what they are doing.

“And the only thing in there (jail) is the negative world of the underworld that we have here in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”

Father Poilièvre said if people were willing to shift their attitudes toward criminals, their view towards jails and prisons could change.

“The jails that we have now, because there is no culture of wellness, healing, therapy, rehabilitation. The culture is of violence, of crime, of conflicts, of hate and resentment. You know, it’s simple.”