WINNIPEG — The province doesn’t intend on reinstating direct lock-ups at the Winnipeg Remand Centre once the pandemic is over.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said when COVID-19 hit, Manitoba Justice made changes at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, to allow for proper screening and isolation of new inmates. He said this included, ensuring that people appear before a judicial officer before being admitted to a correctional facility.
“These new procedures put us in line with procedures in every other jurisdiction in Canada,” said Cullen.
He said there hasn’t been any cases of COVID-19 at correctional facilities in Manitoba to date, and attributes that to the changes made in Winnipeg and Brandon in early April.
Cullen said the province does not intend to reinstate the direct lock-up process in Winnipeg and Brandon when the pandemic ends.
“That’s what happens, for instance, at other locations around the province, and in other provinces as well,” said Cullen. “Our goal is to get individuals processed, and get them before a judiciary as soon as possible.”
In a letter Cullen wrote to Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth, he said a reform of the system is necessary, warranted, and timely.
CTV News reached out to the Winnipeg Police Service for a statement Wednesday, but was told Chief Smyth had no further comments.
Speaking to reporters following the Winnipeg Police Board meeting Monday, Smyth said the restrictions made at the beginning of the pandemic aren’t working now. He said it’s led to people in custody being treated without the respect and dignity they deserve.
He told the board, people are being held in temporary holding cells for an unacceptable amount of time while waiting to be seen in virtual court.
“It’s been alarming to me for a while now,” Smyth said Monday.
He said the holding cells don’t have furniture, bathrooms, or food service, and have lights on 24/7. He noted the shortest stay was three hours, while the longest has been 43.
In Cullen’s letter to Smyth, he said Manitoba Justice is taking his concerns seriously, but said the transformational measures are necessary to ensure the safety of inmates and correctional staff. He noted the new system is still being refined, and the process to grant bail or remand someone into provincial custody can be completed within 24 hours.
Cullen said there have been challenges in implementing the new processes and said the government will continue providing support to the police service.
– With files from CTV’s Michelle Gerwing
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