On March 1, 1946, the government of Saskatchewan formally appointed a commission to investigate the province’s penal system. The four-member body, known as the Saskatchewan Penal Commission, was mandated to scrutinize all components of the province’s penal institutions, including the physical aspects and the established practices under which they operated. Heading the Commission was Dr. Samuel Laycock, as chairman, with Reverend Clarence Halliday and barrister William Holman forming the remainder of the investigative arm of the group; government employee Christian Smith received appointment as the Commission’s secretary.
The Commission reviewed the work of the earlier, federally appointed Archambault Commission, visited the province’s jails and other Canadian and American penal institutions, and finally compiled its findings into the Report of the Saskatchewan Penal Commission. In carrying out its mandate, the Commission faithfully adhered to the government’s direction as to the progression and scope of its investigation.
The report, submitted to the provincial government on September 13, 1946, commented on virtually every aspect of the provincial penal system, from physical infrastructure to established practices and programs. In it, the Commissioners discussed the ideas of crime and punishment, and recommended sweeping changes throughout the administration and operation of Saskatchewan’s jails, regarding future construction and new directives for the discipline, education, labour, and overall well-being of Saskatchewan inmates. The Commissioners roundly criticized the preponderance of what they believed to be an outdated, restrictive and ineffective penal orientation; they espoused a system founded on scientific knowledge and informed by modern methods and research. They urged that disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and sociology should form the basis for a more humanistic and effective system to deal with the problems of crime and rehabilitation.
Although relatively few of the Commission’s recommendations were followed, its work did represent a significant shift in the overall direction of Saskatchewan penology. Probably the most important development to result from the Commission’s Report was the establishment of a Corrections Branch within the Department of Social Welfare. Previously administered by the Department of Public Works, the new positioning of the penal system meant that the department dedicated to social programming and the well- being of Saskatchewan residents now held the responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the province’s penal institutions.