Jail! Our Final Answer?

By: Timothy W. Shire - Tisdale - May 9, 2000


We have all heard the appalling numbers of people who are being held in prisons throughout the United States and smugly consider, what a civilised country we live in, well, that was until the other day when a friend of mine gave me a number to consider. It was not at all what I thought and I am certain you too will be equally surprised. When I asked my wife, an educated and intellectual person, what she thought might be the number she gave me a shrug and “Oh a hundred or so.”


Now her answer made sense, with only a million people in Saskatchewan, it might seem appropriate that we would have as many as one hundred individuals who have acted in such a manner that the only recourse is to deprive them of their liberty and jail them for a time less then two years. I pointed out to her that it was more then that, would she like a second guess and she frowned and said “well there couldn't be more than a thousand.” I agreed with her because that made common sense. Both of us have a back ground in education and no matter what we do, we find that about 2% of the children who come to school have learning difficulties, if that were extended to the whole population, that would mean we could have about 20,000 people in this province who had difficulties that made them significantly different from their peers. However, in the school setting we have programmes and procedures to help the 2% along and the few who can not cope in the school environment are remarkably small numbers. In my whole career I can not remember a single expulsion, oh indeed there were suspensions for a day or two, but total exclusion, none that I was involved with.


So when I told my wife “Eleven thousand seven hundred and sixty-one, not counting Jack Ramsey and Eric Burnstan” she was shocked. How could that be? Then when you let that number simmer for a minute and realise that we are told up to 80% of all provincial inmates are aboriginal people that means as many as nine thousand four hundred eight are status or non-status first nations people. That means one in every sixteen aboriginal people in this province is in custody. Having worked in more than one community serving first nations people I can recall how many of the students in a high school were either just out, awaiting trial or on probation and if we were to include those in the numbers actually in custody we would realise the massive scope of this situation.


Have you ever been to Goodeve? It is a little pastoral village between Melville and Ituna. It has some lovely gardens and great trees, friendly people and a truly wonderful place to live. Yet Sunday night a woman in Goodeve was shot in the face with a shotgun blast as she looked out her window to see what was happening in her yard. Two young men from the Little Big Bear reserve have been charged with the shooting as they stole her car then set it on fire. When the police attempted to arrest the two there was an exchange of gunfire. Does any of this make sense to you? Something is really wrong here and suggests a break down in our civilisation.

jail is a sort of boot camp

Lets think about these truly alarming situations. Being in jail or being processed through the courts and justice system is a very negative experience. Should the two young men from Little Big Bear be convicted they will go to a penitentiary because a crime with a fire arm results in more than a two year sentence. What possible motivation would prompt them to steal a car then burn it, shoot a harmless lady in her house and then enter into a gun fight with law enforcement officers It would seem the deterrent factor of going to jail would be of little consequence. If these two were good guys and did not commit a crime what would happen to them? They would be unemployed, destitute and without hope. There is no reward for them not to commit a crime. For many the experience in jail is a sort of boot camp and many, after their first experience would prefer the ordered and regulated life in a warm but crowded environment, to one of freedom.

is wrong

Everyone I meet or encounter are law abiding descent people, they are not just released from custody or awaiting court. If the 9,408 or so first nations people were to be like the rest of society there would be something like my wife's second guess as the numbers in custody not ten times that number. Saskatchewan people are good people, if you have an emergency anywhere in this province and ask for help you will discover the sharing and genuine positive nature of the people we share this land with and I assure you that is on or off a reserve. Why than do we have people getting into such dire trouble with the law that we see them placed in a jail, a correction institution or whatever. Something is wrong.

let us do something about it.

Let us not blame someone for this situation, let us consider our own lives and communities and look for what possible conditions could be causing this high rate of incarcerations Then, let us do something about it.