‘Frequent flyers’ and more remanded prisoners burden WCC

The number of sentenced inmates at Whitehorse Correctional Centre is dropping. But the number of prisoners locked-up on remand is on the rise.

The number of sentenced inmates at Whitehorse Correctional Centre is dropping.

But the number of prisoners locked-up on remand is on the rise.

These prisoners haven’t been convicted, said Liberal Justice critic Don Inverarity.

“But some end up spending more than two years in the facility — that’s more than convicted prisoners who can only be sentenced for two years less a day.”

Last year, nearly 400 inmates were remanded at the correctional centre.

Only 200 served sentences.

It used to be the other way around, said jail superintendent Phil Perrin, on Tuesday.

“Now, it’s flipped and it’s the opposite.”

Why has the number of sentenced inmates at the jail dropped? Inverarity asked Justice Minister Marian Horne on Monday.

“Is that a increase or a decrease?” said Horne, consulting Health Minister Brad Cathers.

“What I would attribute this to — our increase in the last little while — is the effectiveness of SCAN,” she said.

Horne didn’t understand the question, said Inverarity.

“I didn’t get an adequate answer.”

After further questioning, Horne changed her tune.

“The remand depends on the sentencing by the judge,” she said.

“This minister has no effect on the sentencing the judges do.”

But remanded prisoners haven’t been sentenced.

“They are held awaiting trial,” said Perrin.

“Our law states innocent until proven guilty, while Napoleonic law is basically the opposite.”

For Perrin it doesn’t matter if inmates are held on remand or sentenced.

“We don’t have an interest in guilty or innocent,” he said.

“We’re responsible for the care and custody, whether the individual is remanded or sentenced.”

However, once an inmate is sentenced there is more focused programming available.

“If someone is sentenced there may be specific programs that the courts have suggested or risk areas to address,” said Perrin. “So we work on their case-management plans and release plan, while a remanded individual — you don’t know when they’re going to be getting out.”

In the past, remanded inmates were often overlooked for programming, he added.

“But we entitle them to the same programming as those sentenced.”

There is no limit to how long someone can be remanded at the correctional centre, said Perrin.

But it’s rare to see remanded inmates held for more than two years.

“That’s usually related to serious crimes like murder, where it takes more time to prepare a trial.”

When they are sentenced, prisoners are generally given two days for every one spent in remand, said Inverarity.

“So it’s an incentive for lawyers to keep inmates in remand.”

Because the jail only accommodates those serving sentences of two years less a day, someone sentenced to three years would have to leave the territory.

But if they’d already spent six months in remand, and were given a two-for-one credit, then the remaining two years could be served at the correctional centre after all.

“It could be a factor for some people facing borderline sentences who wish to stay in the territory,” said Yukon Legal Services Society executive director Nils Clarke on Tuesday.

“There’s a bit of fear of the federal penitentiary. But that’s not necessarily borne out by my clients,” he added.

Clarke isn’t sure why remanded inmates are on the rise, while those sentenced are dropping.

“It might be a bit of a statistical blip,” he said.

But it also could be linked to life in the North.

Per capita, the police presence is much higher, said Clarke.

“Persons who have committed crimes and are on probation or parole are known in the community. So if they are drinking or past curfew, the likelihood of them being detected and ultimately finding themselves back at the correctional centre is much higher than someone living in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, or Toronto.

“It’s a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel.”

The RCMP, the correctional centre or Justice will say these people should be working toward living more pro-social lives, said Clarke.

“And I get it — I get it.

“But, I guess, people in Calgary and Edmonton should be working toward living more pro-social lives — they just aren’t caught that often.”

Crimes seem to be getting more serious in the territory, added Clarke.

This also may be a factor in the changing statistics.

“Without getting alarmist, offences might be drifting up a little bit in seriousness,” he said.

“It may be the cocaine — there’s more than there was 10 to 15 years ago.”

The jail also sees a number of inmates return time and again.

In a recent Power-Point presentation given by Dennis Cooley, deputy minister of Justice, these inmates were referred to as “frequent flyers.”

“There’s one individual who’s been in here more than 30 times,” said Perrin.

In the last eight years, 18 inmates have been admitted more than 10 times, while 48 have been admitted more than six.

Another 143 inmates have been admitted between three and five times.

It proves the system needs work, said Inverarity.

“It doesn’t seem to be helping people get turned around.”

Referring to these inmates as frequent flyers “is a bit glib,” said Clarke.

“Someone might say it in passing, between two persons in private, to identify people who unfortunately find themselves frequently at the correctional facility,” he said.

“But whether that term should become part of public presentations — I would probably disagree with that.

“It should be more, what can we do to reduce and potentially eliminate recidivism with respect to some of these people.”