SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan government has requested a review into the death of a 34-year-old woman whose body was discovered in Saskatoon days after being released from Pine Grove Correctional Centre near Prince Albert.

Kimberly Squirrel, who was on remand there, was found dead outside near Avenue Q S and 18th Street W on Jan. 23 when temperatures were in the -30s C. She left Pine Grove three days earlier. 

“Frankly, I was surprised we haven’t heard of similar situations before,” said Julia Quigley, a legal aid lawyer in Prince Albert and president of CUPE 1949, the union that represents all legal aid staff and lawyers.

Quigley is calling on the province to better support inmates when they are released from custody.

After Squirrel was released, correctional staff escorted her to a bus leaving Prince Albert for Saskatoon, according Noel Busse, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety.

He said Squirrel provided a residence to the court that she would be staying at as part of her release conditions.

It is unclear what happened to Squirrel between the time she was released and when her body was found.

The Saskatchewan Coroners Service said it has completed an autopsy but the results are not yet available. It can take between four and six months to confirm and complete autopsy results.

Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell and Justice Minister Gordon Wyant, have requested a review into the circumstances surrounding her death.

“Ministry officials work diligently to ensure these individuals have access to the supports and programming they may need. This can at times be a challenge, but we are committed to working with our sector partners to address these issues and improve the outcomes for those who come into contact with the justice system,” Tell said in a statement.

For Quigley, the review is welcome news, but she said it needs to look at some of the larger issues within the justice system.

“The problem here is we have largely Indigenous populations in our corrections centres. We have a huge remand problem in this province. We remand people at way higher rate than the national average and that needs to stop. We’re not solving any problems that way.”

Transportation for inmates who are released is another issue that needs to be looked at, according to Quigley.

“I’ve had clients hitchhiking in the dead of winter, the four hours up to Deschambault Lake or somewhere like that, and that’s particularly problematic for women of course who are more vulnerable.”

Quigley said there is also a need for more rehabilitative programming for inmates while they’re in custody.

“The amount of programming is just not adequate. You have people going into the correctional centres with complex mental health and addictions issues not getting the support and programming that they need once they’re in custody, and then you’re releasing those same people back into the community without real support going forward.”

The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan has a reintegration program and some housing supports for inmates when they’re released, but spokesperson Blair Roberts said it’s still not enough. 

He said there needs to be more supports like this available.

“I think the key would just be reintegration support, so supporting individuals once they’re back in the community. And then I would also point to support while they’re in prison so that they can actually focus on rehabilitation rather than it just being punishment,” Roberts said.

“Then ultimately housing... if (Squirrel) had a safe place to be, then I think that we could have avoided a senseless death and she would still be alive today.”

Busse said the ministry’s ability to provide programming to people on remand is extremely limited as they have not yet been convicted of anything and are in custody for an indeterminate amount of time.

“We are not in a position to create a case management plan for them, or to provide them consistent services,” he said.

Busse added that Corrections works with inmates who have been sentenced to provide them with a release plan to support their successful reintegration into the community. That could include helping secure safe housing, employment networking and connecting with community supports.

When it comes to transportation, Busse said it is the inmate’s responsibility, but Corrections regularly provides transportation to inmates who do not have any other options.