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.