A $50 million Nunavut jail by 2006?

Even if all possible alternatives to jail are implemented, a $50 million federal-territorial correctional institution with space for 230 inmates will likely be needed soon in Nunavut.


IQALUIT — It’s inevitable. No matter how Nunavut’s corrections system is improved, Nunavut will need another correctional centre soon.

That’s a conclusion contained in a recent report done for Justice Minister Jack Anawak by the Nunavut Corrections Planning Committee.

“The crime rates and the severity of the crime is so bad that even if you’re trying to use as little incarceration as possible, you’re going to end up with a lot of people in jail. There’s no way out of it,” says John Evans, a Vancouver consultant who helped the Nunavut Corrections Planning Committee prepare their recently released report on Nunavut’s corrections system.

Evans is also the author of a 1998 report produced for the Government of the Northwest Territories’ justice department.

That report, entitled “Crime and Corrections in the Northwest Territories,” exposed glaring deficiencies in the territorial correctional system, most of which Nunavut has inherited.

Evans found a non-existent probation supervision system, hopelessly overcrowded correctional centres, and little or no programs aimed at helping inmates deal with the issues that led to their crimes.

He also found that, although the overall per capita crime rate in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is levelling off, the rate of violent crime is increasing.

Evans said that with a “pretty alarming” crime rate — such as a rate of sexual assault that is 700 per cent higher than the rest of Canada — incarceration in Nunavut is “a necessary evil.”

Serious overcrowding

But there is only one correctional centre in Nunavut, the Baffin Correctional Centre, which was originally designed to be a minimum security institution holding 42 low-risk inmates.

But now, it has become an overcrowded, barely functional, and increasingly dangerous medium security institution holding up to 60-70 inmates, including many remand prisoners who have been accused of serious, violent crimes.

That’s only half the number of convicted persons in Nunavut serving sentences of less than two years who need to be incarcerated in territorial institutions. Usually, another 70-80 Nunavummiut are serving time in the Yellowknife Correctional Centre, where conditions aren’t much better than in BCC.

On top of that, another 80 or so federal inmates from Nunavut — people serving sentences longer than two years — are doing time at federal penitentiaries in the South.

The Nunavut corrections committee has found, therefore, that to achieve the goal of bringing Nunavut’s prisoners back to Nunavut, a new federal-territorial institution will be have to built in Nunavut.

The new facility would require years of careful planning, and would be large enough to house 230 adult males — 150 of whom would be serving teritorial time, and another 80 of whom would be serving federal time.

The total cost of building the structure is estimated at least $50 million.

“Crime is expensive,” Evans said.

Rebecca Williams, Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister of justice, said the Nunavut corrections committee discussed the concept of a federal-provincial institution in Nunavut even at their first meetings.

The facility, she said, would be intended for serious offenders who need help to reintegrate. Violent offenders will never make it to halfway houses until they have proper access to programs aimed at helping them overcome the problems that led to their crimes.

More alternatives to jail

But she also said that her department is also working on alternatives to jail that in the short-term, could reduce the numbers of people going to territorial institutions.

This includes the creation of a system of community corrections workers is to better look after offenders, leaving social workers free to look after the needs of victims.

“If we have community corrections. workers, then the social workers will he able to work with the victims and families,” Williams said.

As well, Williams said the staff hired to work with prisoners will need training “to do their jobs better.”

For non-Inuit, training will “help them know who they’re dealing with,” For Inuit, the training would be to help them understand Southern-style institutions.

The Nunavut justice department is already talking to Corrections Canada about paying for the required training, and the new institution.

She said that the recommendations of her corrections committe will cost a lot to implement, but that there’s a huge human cost to crime that no one ever considers.

The committee is also recommending that the new institution be located in a community that has a hospital, a large RCMP detachment, a relatively cheap supply of services, and a large labour pool.

Evans doesn’t see the new institution being located anywhere except Iqaluit because of the risk of riots or strikes by jail guards — in which case a large RCMP detachment would be needed to manage the jail.

But Evans said such an institution can’t work unless there are adequate programs for offenders — including drug and alcohol treatment, and treatment for violent behaviour and sexual offending.

He said that programs such as the practice of using BCC inmates to clean up garbage and shovel snow are extremely limited.

“It doesn’t stop them from hitting their wives,” Evans said.

Ultimately, he said, Nunavut needs to seriously address the issue of crime prevention.

“People have to take ownership of the problems,” he said.

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