06/19/2013 06:45 EDT | Updated 08/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Auditor makes recommendations for schools, health; denied access to youth files

REGINA - Saskatchewan's corrections minister says the provincial auditor can get a court order if she wants information the government denied her on young offenders.

Auditor Bonnie Lysyk's office planned to do a review of how the Justice Ministry tries to rehabilitate young people convicted of crimes.

Federal law restricts access to young offender files unless there is a court order or an order-in-council from cabinet.

But the provincial cabinet wouldn't grant access to Lysyk, who is an independent officer of the legislative assembly.

"What would have been important for us to look at here, is to determine whether the programs that they've put in place for youth offenders are programs that are achieving positive outcomes," Lysyk said Wednesday after releasing her annual report.

"For instance, if a youth offender is put in a certain program, has that made a difference or are they reoffending? And we think the ministry should know that, should have that information. They should be themselves assessing to determine whether their programs are effective, the money spent on those programs is well spent and that when young offenders are put in those programs there are successful outcomes.

"I think by us not doing that audit, we don't have the answer to that until at least the ministry puts out that information publicly."

Lysyk believes an audit is important because Saskatchewan has the highest youth crime rate in Canada at more than three times the national average. She also says research has shown that young people will keep committing crimes if they don't get help at the right time.

The auditor has previously reviewed rehabilitation of adult offenders in provincial correctional facilities and the community.

She says she wasn't given a specific reason as to why she was denied access to youth files.

"To be fair, there is another way that we could get access and that's going to a youth court and asking for access. But you know my view on this is that it shouldn't be that hard."

Corrections Minister Christine Tell said access to young offender files is only for people who deliver young offender programming.

Tell said cabinet discussed the issue at length and decided to leave it up to the courts.

"Most of you are aware of the fact that young offender information is separate and apart from adult information, so it's extremely protected under legislation, a separate piece of legislation," Tell said. "In order to give the auditor access ... we felt it was in the best interest of society and the people of Saskatchewan that this access be granted through a court order," said continued.

"This isn't about what the auditor would or wouldn't do with the information. It really has nothing to do with that."

The auditor's report notes that the Ministry of Justice spent $52 million on young offender correctional services in 2011-2012 to work with 4,400 young offenders who were given community sentences and 500 youth who were admitted into custody.

The auditor was able to review and make recommendations in several other areas, including research at the University of Regina and surgeries in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.

Lysyk said the University of Regina doesn't have enough control over some of its research operations. She made 26 recommendations to improve oversight and policies for research projects.

One suggestion is that the university make expectations more clear with more detailed performance measures and targets. Another recommendation says the university should regularly review research policies, many of which Lysyk noted have not been updated in several years.

"We think when the university puts out policies and procedures, it's incumbent on people that work at the university to follow them, but it's also incumbent on the university to enforce them," Lysyk said.

The university asked for the auditor's review in large part because questions were raised about how more than $2 million was spent at the university-based International Performance Assessment Centre for the Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide, commonly known as IPAC-CO2.

The auditor also made nine recommendations on how the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region could do a better job at managing surgeries. Lysyk looked at how the health region used its surgical facilities from March 2012 to February 2013.

She said the region could not tell her office how much of its capacity is used to provide surgeries or how planned use compared with actual use of surgical facilities.

"To us that was a bit of a red flag that there is not enough information available for them to understand what their true capacity is, how many surgeries they can conduct with their existing resources and, at the end of the day, how what they do compares," she said.

"I think we assumed there would be more information. It just wasn't being done. The information wasn't being accumulated."

The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region is lagging behind others when it comes to meeting the Saskatchewan government's goal for surgery wait times.

Numbers released in May showed that 90 per cent of surgeries in the province were completed in six months. That was within the third-year target for the government's surgical initiative. But Regina Qu'Appelle was at 79 per cent.

The auditor's report also noted that Saskatchewan's growing population means there is likely to be more pressure on spaces in schools.

The Ministry of Education needs better ways to plan for new schools, the report said.

"About 70 per cent of school buildings in the provincial system are more than 40 years old. Therefore significant investment in maintenance, renovation or replacement of schools is likely to be required in the next several years.

"As such, it is important that effective and economical choices are made as to where money is spent."