A union president is sounding the alarm over the pending closure of penitentiaries in Ontario and Quebec, saying inmates will flood already overcrowded facilities in other jurisdictions and add to escalating violence.
The federal government announced in April that it would close three penitentiaries: the maximum-security penitentiary in Kingston, Ont., the nearby Regional Treatment Centre, and the medium-security Leclerc Institution in Laval, Que.
Kevin Grabowsky, Prairies regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says the closures, slated to take place in 2014-15, means the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) will see an increase in violent events in prisons.
You end up where inmates have idle time, and idle time and inmates don’t mix.
— Union president Kevin Grabowsky
“This is the beginning. The Prairies region will not be immune to these population pressures and the Conservative government is pushing CSC into moving too fast, in too many directions to get a firm hold on these incidents,” he says.
“Our members are at risk because of these changes. The Canadian public is at risk because of these changes.”
Violence at penitentiaries across the country is on the rise, making overcrowding especially dangerous, Grabowsky says.
“[The government] just keeps telling us that they’re on the right track and they’re doing all the right things. They figure they have a handle on it, but correctional officers working inside the penitentiaries—we’re living with the results, especially out here in the Prairies.”
According to CSC, the highest rate of prison overcrowding occurs in the Prairies, where 26 percent of inmates are now “double-bunked,” compared to 17.4 percent nationally.
Grabowsky says there’s a correlation between overcrowding and increased violence at penitentiaries, which have a high proportion of mentally ill inmates.
The Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon has faced a particularly sharp rise in violence over the past five years, including two hostage takings this year alone. Between 2005 and 2011, reportable incidents at RPC shot up, rising from 151 incidents in 2005 to 697 incidents last year.
Incidents ranged from property damage and threats towards staff and inmates to assaults, suicides, and hostage takings, among others.
Grabowsky fears that some mentally ill inmates from the three penitentiaries that are closing will end up at RPC, making the situation there worse.
CSC media relations officer Véronique Rioux says inmates from institutions that are being closed will be “appropriately transferred.” Ontario inmates will be sent to other facilities in the province, but it has yet to be decided where inmates from Quebec’s Leclerc Institution will be sent.
“When deciding which institution is most suitable for the custody of an offender, the law requires that CSC take into account a number of factors including: the degree of control needed to protect the public, the staff, the offender, and the security of the institution; and the availability of appropriate programs and services,” she said in an email.
“Ensuring the safety and security of institutions, staff, and public remains the highest priority in the operations of the federal correctional system.”
CSC is building new living units in many of its existing institutions and expects to add more than 2,700 accommodation spaces to men’s and women’s penitentiaries across the country by the end of 2014.
Grabowsky says if inmate populations increase at institutions without adding more programs or facilities, violence will increase.
“If you don’t increase the rest of the material for the facilities—the programming, jobs, recreation—if you don’t expand that and you just put more people in the prisons, the violence is going to increase because you don’t have enough for the inmates to do. You end up where inmates have idle time, and idle time and inmates don’t mix,” he says.
Documents obtained recently by the CBC show that the use of force by guards in federal prisons has increased by 37 percent in the last five years, linked to overcrowded conditions and an increase of inmates with gang affiliations.
The number of incidents requiring use of force rose most dramatically in the Prairies, which had 394 cases in the last fiscal year—up from 185 five years ago.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.