WINNIPEG — Manitoba government statistics show that there are fewer people behind bars in the province, but the justice minister says there's still a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to keeping youth out of prison.
Cliff Cullen says there have been improvements in reducing the number of people in custody and in cutting the time it takes to resolve a case in criminal court.
But he says young people who reoffend are still a large problem.
The government committed to publicly sharing numbers on the inmate population, legal delays and recidivism when it announced a plan last year to modernize criminal justice in the province.
A Statistics Canada report released on Thursday said Manitoba has the highest incarceration rate in Canada — 231 adults per 100,000 population.
About three-quarters of all inmates are Indigenous people, even though they make up about 15 per cent of the population.
Cullen says Manitoba's strategy focuses on prevention, restorative justice and reintegrating offenders into the community. The province is also working with the federal government, Indigenous communities and police to find solutions, he said.
"We recognize there is a link between people involved in child and family services and the criminal justice system," Cullen said Friday.
There are about 11,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.
A recent review of admissions at the Manitoba Youth Centre showed about 60 per cent of youth charged were or had been involved with child-welfare services. The vast majority — 101 out of 129 — were repeat offenders.
The province's data says the average number of youths in custody has dropped to 145 from 235 in the last five years.
But Manitoba still has the highest rate of youth incarceration in Canada, Statistics Canada said, and the proportion of Indigenous youth admitted into correctional services has continued to climb.
"We recognize there are challenges," Cullen said.
Reducing the time it takes to resolve a matter in court has helped reduce the number of people behind bars and how long they stay there, he added.
That time has dropped by 11 per cent — to 160 days from 180 — since 2016.
"We have a strategy and this plan is paying dividends, but I will admit we do have more work to do."