A representative for Saskatchewan Penitentiary guards said the aging prison is no more dangerous than any other in Canada, in spite of serious concerns raised by the federal Correctional Investigator and local advocates.
James Bloomfield, veteran guard and prairie regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said he disagrees with Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s assessment of the 106-year-old institution. Zinger alleged the Prince Albert facility is “not conducive to rehabilitation” due to its aging infrastructure, but Bloomfield said the prison is on par with every other Canadian penitentiary when it comes to both safety and correctional programming.
“There can always be improvements, don’t get me wrong, but we’re definitely not lacking as [Zinger] indicated,” Bloomfield said. “He’s right in one aspect – it wasn’t designed to do the corrections that we’re doing today, but that doesn’t take away from our ability to do corrections within this design.”
Bloomfield said Zinger’s allegation that penitentiary infrastructure hampers programming for inmates is incorrect, and noted programs are largely identical across all federal prisons. Programming specific to Indigenous offenders is actually more robust at the Saskatchewan facility than most due to the high population demographics, he said, despite Zinger’s report to the contrary.
While at least one advocate has called for the Saskatchewan Penitentiary to be closed, Bloomfield said he doesn’t feel closure and replacement are necessary. Many newer prisons are designed with an open floor plan, he said, but the Saskatchewan Penitentiary’s older design may have actually helped staff contain the violence during the fatal riot in December of 2016.
“The reality is, in a riot situation, some of our older facilities sometimes help us when we have the barriers and the ability to close off areas quickly,” Bloomfield said. “In this riot at the Saskatchewan penitentiary it occurred in one area – the rest of the prison was locked down and kept completely separated from the whole thing.”
According to Bloomfield, penitentiary guards have not brought forward any safety concerns recently beyond the normal risks inherent to the job. Although food quality and quantity have been widely cited as the driving force behind the 2016 riot, Bloomfield said the violence was caused by long-standing tensions which have largely been addressed. Food service was reviewed in the riot’s aftermath, he said, and many inmates were moved to other institutions. Although riots can happen in any prison at any time, Bloomfield said staff at the penitentiary do not feel the tensions escalating toward a boiling point as they were this time last year.
“At this point we don’t have any serious concerns about it building to another riot. We don’t see it coming right now,” Bloomfield said. “When we do have issues, we have very open forums to bring them forward.”
Overall, Bloomfield said, staff members are happy with their safety levels and their ability to provide meaningful correctional programming to inmates at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
“We don’t have any concerns at this point,” he said. “The risks and the safety measures are the same in all our institutions.”
Correctional Service Canada declined an interview to address the concerns brought forward by Zinger in his report. A spokesperson said there are currently no plans to close the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, and a full report into the causes of the 2016 riot will be made public next month.
On Twitter: @TMacPhersonNews
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