Members of the union representing corrections officers at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary are raising concerns about a lack of available cell space following a riot at the institution nearly two years ago.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers said some 120 jail cells are still “offline” and unable to be used after the riot in December 2016, in which inmates ripped sinks, bed and toilets off walls, pulled lights and sprinklers from ceilings, and caused the death of one inmate. James Bloomfield, the union’s regional president, told paNOW that the lack of useable cells at the institution raises safety issues and is causing agitation amongst inmates.
“At this point, they’re still not back online, and you know that does create population pressures [and] sometimes results in staff assaults by frustration,” Bloomfield said. “Every cell that is down, every cell that we cannot use for our medium-security environment is again an additional pressure that’s put onto the populations, the staff, and everywhere within the institution. It becomes a problem.”
The December 14, 2016 riot at the penitentiary lasted approximately six hours and involved 131 inmates. The incident caused an estimated $3.5 million in damages, according to a report from the Correctional Service of Canada. The CSC report determined that several factors may have been at play leading up to the riot, including concerns over labour and food issues, recent changes in management and one inmate in particular with a history of inciting tensions amongst his peers.
One inmate, 43-year-old Jason Leonard Bird was killed in the riot, and two other inmates were critically injured. In June of this year, five inmates were charged in connection with Bird's death. Their cases are still before the courts.
Bloomfield said red tape has slowed repairs at the institution, adding that contracting is “always a ridiculous issue with the federal government."
“It is a very complicated system that is definitely not efficient and definitely does not work in the best interests of building these things and getting these units back online,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada said in an email to paNOW that repairs and replacements of fixtures is now complete, but officials are awaiting a final inspection before the cells can be used again. The CSC said the cells should be operational in October.
The CSC said the safety of staff and inmates is paramount at Saskatchewan Penitentiary, adding that the institution works to ensure full use of available beds in order to provide a safe and secure environment. Both inmates and staff can access institutional management at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and are encouraged to bring forward any concerns they may have, especially regarding safety and security, the organization adds.
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