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A voice for inmates
Committee working with territorial and federal governments to develop correctional programs

Heather Lange
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, July 2, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Bill Reid is looking for interested people to join a committee that helps to give a voice to one of the most governed groups of people in town, inmates at the North Slave Correctional Centre.

NNSL photo/graphic

Bill Reid, chair of the Yellowknife branch of the Citizens' Advisory Committee says he has connected with the inmates at the North Slave Correctional Centre through art. - Heather Lange/NNSL photo

Bill Reid, chair of the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Corrections, Yellowknife Branch, said the committee is about creating discussion with the inmates, staff and parole/probation officers to better understand the needs of inmates and creating change within the system to help the inmates improve their lives once they are no longer incarcerated.

"The committee is the eyes and ears looking at the programs at the jail, the policies. We are concerned if the inmates are being treated properly and re-establishing them into the communities. That has been a problem for a long time. We do not want them to feel at home. In a sense we are lighting a fire underneath them so they can live their lives differently," said Reid.

When Reid came aboard the committee seven months ago, he asked why the committee was only helping five federal inmates.

"We wanted to help all of the inmates and so when some senior Citizens' Advisory Committee members came up North, we talked with the GNWT and now we are representing everyone, all inmates. There are all kind of things open to us, but what we need is more people. What we want is a full orchestra not just an overture," said Reid.

The Citizens' Advisory Committee for Corrections,Yellowknife branch is the only citizens' advisory committee in Canada that works with both territorial/provincial and federal governments in the development of correctional programming.

He said the committee currently has three members in Yellowknife, none of which are aboriginal. The committee is hoping to raise awareness of what they do and to attract more members.

"We want to get members who are aboriginal. It's important that there is someone to represent the aboriginal community on the committee considering the North Slave Correctional Centre inmates are about 80 per cent aboriginal," said Reid.

Reid said where the committee starts is gaining the confidence of the inmates.

"It is up to us to devise how to learn to communicate with the inmates. We need to learn what the problems are. We are interested people who are above all, listening," said Reid.

Reid teaches art classes at the jail, from painting to charcoal, for the last seven months. He has also been volunteering his time teaching a bible study class. Reid said between 12 and 19 people come to his art and bible study classes a week.

According to the Department of Justice's website, between 2009 and 2010, the average daily count of inmates at the North Slave Correctional Centre was about 146.

"We want the inmates to become more aware through these activities the possibilities in life are great, much more than they think they are. There is lots of talent in music and art. I'm thrilled with the response. They have been really happy with us and I'm learning a great deal as a CACC member," said Reid.

The Committee has been active in Yellowknife for 15 years and on the Correctional Service Canada website, it states that nationally there are 500 citizens who participate in 100 Citizens' Advisory Committees across Canada.

Interested people in joining the Citizen Advisory Committee can contact Reid.

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