Pro bono program aims to connect inmates with legal help

By Charlene Tebbutt
June 13, 2018 - 2:00pm

A new program is designed to help prison inmates in Saskatchewan navigate their legal issues.

Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan recently started the Inmate Legal Assistance Panel Program, which is aimed at helping inmates in jails across Saskatchewan deal with issues inside institutions including discipline charges, segregation, access to health and dental care, or being banned from communicating with family. Carly Romanow, executive director and staff lawyer with Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan, said the program connects volunteer lawyers with inmates needing assistance and so far has helped 50 inmates deal with issues inside jails.

“We were getting an increase of calls from inmates across the province within provincial institutions and federal institutions,” Romanow told paNOW. “And basically, no one was helping out … there’s a big gap in services for all these inmates.”

Institutional charges can have severe effects on prison inmates, Romanow said, and can lead to longer-term issues as well.

“Once they’re in the institution they’re very cut off from programs and services that are able to help with the quality of life,” she said. “Institutional charges go on record and can impact programming they can access and security level of clearance … and it doesn’t go away. After you’re done your stint, the next time you are incarcerated, you will then have that record and will have to deal with those consequences.”

Romanow said the pro bono law organization is looking for more lawyers across Saskatchewan to volunteer with the program. While volunteers may not be able to be available to help in every community just yet, she said the program can still assist with writing letters and providing advice to inmates so they can represent themselves.

“An inmate that’s incarcerated, it’s very difficult for them to advocate for themselves," she said. "It doesn’t necessarily always mean you’ll get every demand that an inmate is seeking, but it draws the attention that someone else is paying attention to them, and notes that this is a worthy cause."

Jaime Boldt is interim CEO with the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, a community-based support and advocacy program that works with offenders. She says the new program will ensure better protection of inmates’ rights and could help lessen the long-term impacts of institutional charges, such as mental health issues.

“It’s the inmates’ right to consult with counsel when there are issues within the institution and this provides an easier venue, or opportunity, for that to happen,” Boldt told paNOW. “When you’re in custody, you’re still afforded your human rights.”

 

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