New programming at South Mackenzie Correctional Centre that would help address gaps in rehabilitative programming has been delayed due to COVID-19.

South Mackenzie in Hay River was planning to transition to a therapeutic community model this year, but had to delay the program shift because of COVID-19.

“Over the past months, the Corrections Service has had a priority focus on the health and safety of all inmates and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sue Glowach, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said in an email. “As well, there have been delays from contractors for required changes to the facility, again, due to the pandemic.”

The transition to the therapeutic community model — which emphasizes social learning and community as a means to encourage individual change and reaching therapeutic goals — is expected to be completed in spring 2021.

It’s funded by the facility’s own operations budget.

“It’s trying to direct people out of it and then giving them the tools they need to overcome addictions and stay out of the system,” said R.J. Simpson, Minister for Justice, in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday.

This change comes after an Auditor General Report in 2015 which found the level of rehabilitative programming to be inadequate in both South Mackenzie and the North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife.

The change to the therapeutic model is part of “significant changes” the Corrections Service has made to programming at South Mackenzie, aimed at “targeting the needs of territorial offenders.”

“The implementation of the therapeutic community at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre will further support the Department’s work in assisting offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community,” said Glowach.