The looming shutdown of Saskatchewan Transportation Company could leave newly-released prisoners out in the cold, according to one of the province’s leading advocates for prison reform.

Announced in Wednesday’s provincial budget, the publicly-owned bus service is set to dissolve on May 31. While the province expects the move to generate significant savings, Greg Fleet, CEO of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, said the closure could also create headaches for newly-released prisoners who in many cases have not been convicted.

“It will create some challenges for inmates, either finishing their sentence or those that are on remand in the provincial system, to return to their northern communities,” Fleet told paNOW. “We’re not sure how those challenges are going to be met, but it’s definitely going to create some hardships.”

Fleet said prisoners taken to Prince Albert to be held in custody while they await court appearances are typically given a bus ticket or alternate transportation home upon their release. Remanded prisoners have not been found guilty of a crime, Fleet noted, and often come from remote communities.

“There’s going to be some very unique challenges, especially because a lot of the people that are serving time in Prince Albert Correctional Centre are from the northern part of our province,” Fleet said. “Returning those people home is going to be difficult, and we just don’t know what response the [Ministry] of Justice will have in place to cover off the loss of STC.”

Fleet said it was possible some newly-released inmates will simply remain in Prince Albert after their release due to a lack of transportation, which he said is concerning as it would separate them from their families and other supports they would receive in their home communities.

An alternative to STC must be made available, Fleet said, but options are scarce as private bus companies may not be willing to take a financial hit by adopting STC’s northern routes and taxis are almost never an option for long trips.

“There’s really no easy solution to this,” Fleet said. “But one needs to be found.”

Speaking at a luncheon in Prince Albert Friday, Provincial Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said the various issues created by the closure of STC, including its impact on newly-released prisoners, will need to be addressed individually as they arise.

“As we identify those kinds of concerns, if there’s an opportunity to do something to alleviate those concerns, we’ll take a look at that,” Doherty said, but noted there were no provisions made in the recently-tabled budget for alternative transportation.

Doherty said STC staff has done good work serving Saskatchewan residents for many years, but the business model was unsustainable and tough choices had to be made. The province, Doherty said, decided the $85 to $100 million used annually to subsidize STC would be better spent in the education, healthcare and social services systems.

Private transportation services will likely step up to fill the vacuum left by STC, Doherty said, as will charitable organizations and service clubs. The province will address any problems created by the closure on a case-by-case basis, he said.

“We’ll just have to play this out,” Doherty said.

Myth:

The John Howard Society has no public plan to Improve the Corrections System in Canada

Fact:
The John Howard Society of Canada has publicly promoted a 5 Point Plan to Improve the Corrections System in Canada. This plan is supported by all John Howard Societies across the country.
1. Respect the Presumption of Innocence: Address Canada’s Bail / Reform Crisis
2. Sue for Peace in the War on Drugs
3. Treat rather than Punish the Mentally Ill
4. Proportionate and Constructive Penalties
5. From Confinement to Contribution: Effective Corrections

For full details of this 5 point plan click the link to: http://www.johnhoward.ca/5-point-plan/

Greg Fleet
Chief Executive Officer
John Howard Society of Saskatchewan
(306) 584-2115

Myth: The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan (JHSS) primarily works with criminals who are either in jail or who are in the community.

Fact:
The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan does work with young men and adults, serving their sentence or after leaving incarnation, it is only a small part of what services we deliver on a daily basis.

Our LYNC (Linking Youths Needs to the Community) program offers young people with a high risk to reoffend a positive connection to sustainable supports in the community. Risk is managed by enhancing youth’s personal assets and skill base and promoting healthy lifestyles.

We also deliver the Alternative Measures and Youth Extra-judicial Sanctions (EJS) programs. These programs are for minor criminal offenses. The John Howard Society arranges a face to face meeting between the offender and victim. A mediated discussion takes place with the intent of resolving the conflict through a mediation agreement and hopefully deterring the offender from further criminal activity. Upon completion, the charge is withdrawn by the courts.

Approximately 70% of the work JHSS delivers is with “At Risk” youth and young adults, who have no connection to the criminal justice system. We run 5 youth homes for males age 12 – 20, who may otherwise be homeless, serving over 30,000 meals a year!. We deliver Outreach Services in the community to reach vulnerable youth. Our Supported Independent Living program assists youth as they transition to independent living.
Did you know the JHSS is the largest Fine Option agent in the province. Each year we connect thousands of individuals with community partners where they work to pay off their fines.

Myth: John Howard Society of Saskatchewan is against incarceration.

Fact: John Howard Society recognizes that incarnation is a
necessary sanction for serious and violent offenses.
Our sole interest is in effective, just and humane treatment when people are sent to prison.

Rehabilitation needs to start once they begin their sentence to properly prepare them to re-enter society.

This process helps to ensure safer communities, lower recidivism rates and reduces taxpayer costs.