05/29/2013 06:01 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Plans for new Saskatoon remand centre to address overcrowding on hold

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says it is indefinitely delaying plans for a new remand centre in Saskatoon — even though a government report said it would be built.

Deputy corrections minister Dale McFee acknowledges there is an overcrowding problem at the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre, where people on remand are held.

But McFee, a former Prince Albert police chief, says putting up a new remand centre is a narrow approach.

"I used to say as the chief of police and then when I was the president of the Canadian chiefs is, we're not going to arrest our way out of our troubles. The same thing here is we're not going to build our way out," said McFee.

"We need to make sure that we're focusing our approach (on) evidence based outcomes, things that work, interventions at the appropriate time, the tipping point, the time when the investment makes the most sense. And we need to make sure that our facilities align with what it is that we're trying to accomplish."

McFee says the province is working on a plan that could include repurposing other facilities. He notes that some young offender centres have space and could potentially be redesigned to hold people on remand away from youth.

The plan could also include programs to help people before they get into trouble.

McFee says the plan should take about a year to complete. He says it would be premature to speculate on whether that plan will call for a new facility, but anything is possible.

"What we don't want to do is just starting slapping (up) and continuing slapping up buildings without looking at a comprehensive plan that's going to be the path forward," he said.

The province said in March 2009 that it would build a new remand centre in Saskatoon to address overcrowding. The four-year, $87-million project was intended to be a 216-cell facility.

That was in response to an investigation into the escape of six inmates from the Regina correctional centre in 2008.

The provincial ombudsman has also taken aim at overcrowding.

Kevin Fenwick wrote in his 2009 annual report, which was tabled in the legislature in April 2010, that overcrowding limits the ability of corrections staff to deliver programs to help inmates and that "overcrowded jails with a lack of programming are a recipe for disaster."

Fenwick wrote: "The new remand centre planned for Saskatoon would take pressure off the existing correctional centres by reducing overcrowding and freeing up program space. It could also provide for programming for inmates awaiting trial, a step which is long overdue."

"It is vital that capital projects within the correctional system, such as the remand centre planned for Saskatoon, proceed," he wrote.