Sask. John Howard Society launches podcast featuring inmate voices, experiences

·3 min read

An advocacy organization that acts as a voice for inmates in Saskatchewan's correctional system is launching a podcast featuring their stories and experiences, with the goal of changing how we think about justice.

Hearing good stories is a chance to connect, particularly during COVID-19, when people are feeling more disconnected than before, says Blair Roberts, host of the podcast Know Justice.

The project is being undertaken by the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, which Roberts said was looking for a new way to advocate and share its work within the justice system.

"We felt like it was a bit of a unique way to advocate and get some of that information out and share wonderful stories," Roberts said.

Julie Paul's son, River Peters, is in the Regina Correctional Centre's remand unit and caught COVID-19 there.

Paul, who is featured on an episode of Know Justice, said her son has since recovered.

She participated in a rally outside the correctional facility in early January, and organized a rally of her own featuring dancers in regalia, as ways to express her concern about her son's situation.

Bryan Eneas/CBC
Bryan Eneas/CBC

Paul said her son's primary concerns were access to medications when he was in pain and not knowing when he would be allowed to contact his family.

"He was locked down for seven days and wasn't able to tell me he was sick or anything," Paul said.

"That was the worst — him not being able to connect with me."

Paul said she was upset by comments made by Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell — repeated by Premier Scott Moe earlier this month — that prisoners on remand were looking for a "get out of jail free card" by asking to be released from jail due to the pandemic.

Tell's office released a statement about the situation after a petition was presented, calling for her resignation.

"It would be a disservice to victims and a breach of my duty to maintain public safety to grant leave to inmates who would not otherwise meet the stringent public safety criteria in place for early release," the statement said.

"Similarly, the Ministry of Corrections and Policing is not able to release remanded inmates. The decision to remand inmates is made by the courts after discussion between prosecutors, defence counsel, the judiciary and any other necessary parties."

Tells statement also noted that "87 per cent of inmates on remand have been charged with a violent offence."

Roberts pointed out that inmates on remand haven't been convicted or sentenced for a crime — they're being held and awaiting trial. He also said Saskatchewan uses remand at a far higher rate than the national average.

"The last numbers I read said 58 per cent of prisoners were on remand. Those are really high numbers for someone who hasn't actually been convicted of a crime yet."

He repeated calls the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan made, asking for the province to reduce the number of inmates in remand during the pandemic, and to provide additional programming for inmates inside jails.