Sask. Penitentiary ‘not conducive to rehabilitation’: Investigator

By Taylor MacPherson
November 7, 2017 - 2:10pm

anada’s corrections watchdog said significant work needs to be done to bring conditions at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary up to modern standards.

Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger was highly critical of conditions at the Prince Albert federal prison in his annual report, released late last month. Although the fatal riot at the prison last year was started by inmates unhappy with food quality and portion sizes, Zinger’s report highlighted broader systemic issues which also contributed to the violence. In an interview with paNOW, Zinger said the facility will require significant upgrades at the very least, if it is to meet current requirements.

“I suspect that many Canadians would be very surprised if not shocked at some of the conditions,” Zinger said. “It is not conducive to rehabilitation and safe reintegration, and something must be done to address that.”

Zinger said the 106-year-old prison was not designed with rehabilitation in mind, which means conditions inside are harsher than almost any other Canadian institution. Indigenous inmates in particular require culturally-sensitive programming, he said, which the Saskatchewan Penitentiary is not equipped to provide to its 64 per cent Indigenous population.

In addition to rehabilitative programming, Zinger said conditions of confinement are also lacking. Cells are tiny, he said, and rarely offer natural light (U.N. standards require an inmate to be able to read a book without artificial light during daylight hours, Zinger noted). The prison’s segregation unit, commonly referred to as solitary confinement, is especially bad, he said, with poor ventilation, cramped cells and an exercise yard which is “just a concrete pen.”

All of the poor conditions at the facility contribute to unrest among an inmate population, Zinger said, and likely contributed to the 2016 riot. A long-standing undercurrent of unrest is required before a prison explodes into violence, he said, which means the facility’s systemic problems almost certainly played a role in motivating the rioters.

While some have called for the closure of the penitentiary, Zinger said the decision will have to be made by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), the federal government body that oversees federal corrections. Something needs to be done, Zinger said, but there is a possibility the issues could be improved through renovations rather than replacement.

“It is for them to decide how best to ensure that a safe, secure environment that’s conducive to rehabilitation can be put in place,” Zinger said. “I’ve seen some renovations of areas and additions [at other prisons] that are much, much improved over the old buildings.”

If the issues continue unchecked, Zinger said the prison will continue to cause issues. His office receives a disproportionate number of complaints from the Saskatchewan institution, he said, with many stemming from the prison’s aging infrastructure and poor conditions.

“It is an old, antiquated facility,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in compliance with modern correctional philosophy.”

Correctional Service Canada declined repeated requests for an interview to address the concerns raised by Zinger’s report, and sent a brief statement  to paNOW saying there are no plans to replace the aging institution.

“While there are challenges in maintaining a building of its age and size along with ensuring necessary security features are in place, CSC is committed to meeting the standard living conditions for the offender population in a penitentiary,” CSC Spokesperson Laura Cummings wrote.

When asked to respond to specific concerns raised by Zinger regarding the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, Cummings declined.

“We’ve provided all the information we have at this time,” Cummings wrote.

Public Safety Canada also declined an interview on the subject. Spokesperson Andrew Gowing said CSC responded to all questions to his satisfaction, and the ministry had nothing further to add.

 

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