Community bail program could save N.L. nearly $300 a day per inmate

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Community bail program could save N.L. nearly $300 a day per inmate

Two instructors from Memorial University will be working with the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Justice and Public Safety to look at a possible way to reduce overcrowding at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

It's called a bail supervision program, and involves letting people who are on remand – or in custody awaiting a trial – spend that time in the community instead of in a cell.

Hayley Crichton, a PhD student in sociology, and Pegah Memarpour, a social worker at Choices for Youth and an instructor at MUN, will be overseeing the study on the program's feasibility in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Community bail programs have been tried in other parts of Canada, and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says his department is on board.

How it works

Bail supervision programs work by first giving the option of bail to certain inmates in custody waiting for their trial. If that person can't meet the conditions of bail, they could be accepted into the program.

From there, they would be paired with a bail supervision officer who works with them on things like ensuring their conditions are met and ensuring they have somewhere to live.

"It works similar to how probation or parole works where you would have somebody, let's say a social worker, who is a bail supervision officer who would work with you in the community," said Memarpour.

Parsons said it would be up to the courts to decide who is eligible for the program, and it would be dependent on the likelihood of them committing another crime, not showing up to trial, and other risks outlined in the Criminal Code.

The province isn't putting any timelines on the study, Parsons said, and just wants to see it done right. Regardless, he said he's anxious to see the community bail program in action.

"I firmly believe that there are some people who would be better served, and society would be better served, by having them await their matter in the community," he told the panel on the St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

Cost savings

According to the justice department, it currently costs $303 per day for each inmate being held in custody at HMP. That adds up to $110,000 per inmate, per year.

"It would save the province a significant amount of money," said Crichton "Someone [placed] in the community would cost about $5 per day."

As well, between 40 to 50 per cent of people sitting in a provincial jail cell are on remand, waiting for their trial.

Parsons said while the research still needs to be done on how a bail supervision program could work in Newfoundland and Labrador, he's confident that at least some of the inmates on remand in the province could be supervised in the community.

For a province that is strapped for cash, Parsons feels it's his duty as minister to look at the feasibility of a program that could mean significant cost savings.

"The financial side is obviously a very good part of it given our financial state in this province," he said.

"But more importantly I think this is a great practice, and that's what we're really striving for in this project."