When thinking of jails, people often assume that the people in them are there because they have been convicted of a crime. In Canadian jails, it is more likely that someone is in jail while waiting for his or her trial rather than for having been convicted. According to Statistics Canada, an average of 57% of adults in correctional facilities were being held before trial and being found guilty between 2014 and 2015.1 There was an increase to 60% between 2015 and 2016.2 This trend has been on the rise despite the decrease in the number of people being charged with a crime.3
The high number of people in remand is creating significant overcrowding concerns in jails. In Manitoba, jails are at a 127 percent occupancy rate.4 The Headingley Correctional Centre has one of the province’s highest occupancy rates at 144 percent.5 The fact that Manitoba’s incarceration rate per 100,000 residents is 2.79 times higher than the national rate exacerbates this problem even more.6
It is important to keep in mind that one of the principles of fundamental justice is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Holding so many people in remand, coupled with court delays, significantly impedes on an accused’s right to be presumed innocent and tried within a reasonable time. Considering that it is very expensive to hold inmates in jail, one would assume that provincial governments would prefer not to hold so many people in remand. The issue of being able to safely release accused individuals into the public while awaiting trial is one reason why remand rates are so high.
The John Howard Society of Manitoba is an example of an organization that is working towards helping address the high remand rates. They have a bail diversion program that provides inmates awaiting trial a place to stay and receive support.7 John Howard also offers programming. The program is limited to 26 beds and comes at about half of the cost of housing men in custody.8 Saskatchewan is keenly interested in adopting this model to deal with its high remand and overcrowding rates in jails, which suggests that there is merit to this program.9
If there were more organizations such as John Howard, or if its program could be expanded to help more individuals, justice system costs and overcrowding and remand rates would be likely to decrease. Significant consideration should also be given to the fact that the program can keep some individuals in their communities and with their families, which seems more likely to help them rehabilitate and seek the support needed to prevent recidivism. It seems that governments should grow partnerships with community organizations to tackle its criminal justice system concerns.
Remand rates are a growing issue in Canada, and if the status quo continues, they are more likely to continue to rise than decrease. This problem comes with increasing costs and complications to the justice system. Focusing on more community-based approaches seems to be a cost effective and well-rounded strategy to help individuals who are accused of committing crimes and involved in the justice system.
1 Aileen Donnelly, “More than Half of Canadian Adults in Jail Awaiting Trial Rather than Serving Sentences in 2014 and 2015: Stats Can” National Post (11 January 2017), online: <http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/more-than-half-of-canadian-adults-in-jail-awaiting-trial-rather-than-serving-sentences-in-2014-and-2015-statscan>.
2 Julie Reitano, “Adult Correctional Statistics in Canada, 2015/2016” (1 March 2017), online: <http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/14700-eng.htm>.
3 Supra note 1.
4 Jacques Marcoux & Caroline Barghout, “Manitoba Jails Bursting at the Seams Even Though Crime Rates Continue to Fall”, CBC News (29 October 2015), online: <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-jails-busting-crime-rate-falling-1.3293068>.
7 CBC News, “Innovative Man. Remand Program Could Decrease Overcrowding in Sask. Jails”, CBC News (24 January 2017), online: <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/remand-program-overcrowding-saskatchewan-jails-manitoba-1.3949943>.