Brandon West Conservative MLA Reg Helwer wants the “growing population” of prisoners awaiting trial to get access to educational and rehab programs while behind bars.
The Progressive Conservative caucus could vote to go ahead with such a policy during its annual general meeting in Brandon this weekend.
“What we’ve seen over the last 14 years is the NDP has failed to deal with the growing population in remand,” said Helwer, who is the party’s justice critic.
According to the resolution submitted by the Brandon West PC Association, the province’s remand population accounts for 30 per cent of the prison population and the number of recidivism, or reoffences, has climbed over the last decade.
Helwer argues prisoners awaiting trial dates are frequently moved to different facilities as a result of overcrowded jails, so even those who do get access to those programs often can’t complete them.
“Obviously, there’s costs involved there, but if you don’t deal with the issues in remand, you’re going to deal with the issues of cost to the justice system and society and victims down the road,” he said.
“There’s a way we can reduce crime in Manitoba and recidivism.”
The resolution includes programs for addictions, vocational training, work experience, spirituality and education. However, Helwer said he’s not prepared to commit to the same level of services for pre-trial prisoners as those serving a sentence ahead of a caucus discussion.
“There’s no one answer ... you really have to look at the individual and see what’s best. I think addictions are a serious problem, obviously,” he said. “The problem with the remand environment is you’re not sure how long people are going to be in there and some of these programs need a longer period of time in order to be effective.”
While a prisoner’s time behind bars while waiting to go to court can range depending on the severity of the crime and courthouse gridlock, Brandon criminal lawyer Bob Harrison said some serve as long as a year if they face serious charges, and he said that time could be put to use to help the accused.
“It makes sense, instead of sitting around waiting for your trial or court appearance, you might as well put it to good use and deal with an issue,” he said.
Harrison — who often raises his concerns in court — said he’d like to see extensive programming for all prisoners, including those who are about to finish their sentence.
“They could have unresolved anger issues, addictions issues and some of them need extensive programming.”
Meanwhile, during this weekend’s PC caucus meeting, members will also vote on whether they want to look into working with other provinces to create a national driver’s licence for Canadian Forces personnel.
The resolution, the second to be brought to the table by the local PC association, said a national driver’s licence would eliminate the headache of transferring drivers’ abstract information between provinces.
Helwer said the idea would be difficult to pull off since other provinces would have to be on board, but said he’s heard the concern from some local military personnel, many of whom relocate every two to three years.
It’s expected only 10 to 15 of the close to 70 resolutions will be debated in the allotted time this weekend while the remainder will be looked at by a policy committee.
The three-day gathering at the Victoria Inn will include a fundraising speech by Tory Leader Brian Pallister on Saturday.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 18, 2013