A new substance abuse treatment program is being established at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre as part of the province's gang violence reduction strategy.
The province said that the program — which it's called a 'dedicated substance abuse treatment unit' (DSATU) — will enhance community safety by providing supports and treatment to offenders dealing with addictions issues.
The new program will include 25 inmates for its first intake. The program is five weeks long and will run daily from Monday to Friday. It begins May 16.
"Addictions is one of the major root causes of crime and gang violence," Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell said in a news release.
"We know from experience that treating offenders' addictions issues and related mental health concerns can reduce their involvement with the criminal justice system and make Saskatchewan a safer place for everybody."
According the province, programming in the unit will include behavioural therapy, relapse prevention, development of problem-solving skills, and goal-setting exercises.
More to do
Shawn Fraser, CEO of the advocacy group John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, said the organization applauds the provincial government for taking on these new programming spots in the correctional facility.
"Ultimately, so much of the crime in our province and across our country is tied somehow to addiction. And it's good to see the government recognizing that [by] using spots," Fraser said.
But, he said more still needs to be done.
"I think the challenge is that these services, they're ultimately really not available on the scale they need to be. So this is a good first step, but there's certainly room for a lot more of these services within our correctional system."
Fraser said the ultimate goal is "zero recidivism" — when people leave correctional facilities and don't come back.
"And that far too often isn't the case. We don't have the supports that we need inside the correctional system. And certainly when people leave, lots of times they're leaving just to the same circumstances that they came from. Which were circumstances that got them to prison in the first place."
Kayla Demong, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction, said that any opportunity for someone that is incarcerated to get the help they need is a good thing. But she said the province needs to fund even more programs throughout Saskatchewan, both in corrections and outside of it.
"I don't think it's an either/or situation. We know that we need better access to treatment. We know we need better access to mental health supports. We know we need increased funding and supports for harm reduction programs across the province," Demong said.
Meanwhile, the number of Saskatchewan people suspected to have died from drug toxicity in 2021 is more than double the number from two years prior.
There are 464 people confirmed or suspected to have died last year, according to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
DSATU in other facilities
The first DSATU became operational at the Regina Correctional Centre in 2008. Additional programs were launched at Pine Grove Correctional Centre and Prince Albert Correctional Centre in 2020 and 2021.
Evaluation of the DSATU program at the Regina Correctional Centre found that participants have a statistically significant lower rate of re-offending after they're released, according to the province.
The ministry of corrections, policing and public safety tells the CBC that an evaluation of the treatment unit at the Regina Correctional Centre was completed in 2016. It found that inmates who took part had a significantly lower rate of contact with correctional services at six,12 and 24 months after their release.
Also, unit participants who did come back into contact with corrections after release had a longer period of no-contact compared to inmates who had not taken part in treatment unit programming. Participants also had a significantly lower rate of misconduct in custody in the time between their completion of the program and their release from the Regina Correctional Centre.
The ministry tells CBC that at the Regina Correctional Centre, 78 inmates completed the program in 2021. About 470 inmates completed the program there between 2017 and 2021.
Meanwhile in 2021, 54 and 48 inmates completed the program at the Pine Grove and Prince Albert correctional centres.
Addiction services at the Saskatoon facility will be delivered through a partnership between the ministry of corrections, policing and public safety, the ministry of health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority.