After years of warning the Saskatchewan government about problems in its correctional facilities, SGEU is surprised the Minister is still claiming she is unaware of any concerns.
Regina (19 Aug. 2015) — The Saskatchewan government must acknowledge the crisis-level conditions in provincial correction centres and move quickly to address them instead of claiming ignorance, says the union representing Saskatchewan corrections workers.
Union has repeatedly raised its concerns
“We have spoken out again and again about the dangerously overcrowded conditions in correctional centres,” said Bob Bymoen, President of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU/NUPGE).
“Instead of taking action, the government has delayed the opening of facilities in Prince Albert and at Besnard Lake. They also cancelled an approved remand centre for Saskatoon, which has contributed to the severe overcrowding in all facilities. And, the government is surprised that inmates are complaining!”
Union responds to newspaper article
Bymoen was responding to an article in the August 12 issue of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, “Province to look into inhumane jail conditions,” which referenced a recent letter by inmates at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre that describes conditions there as desperately overcrowded and under-resourced.
The article states, “It’s no wonder inmates have started rioting.” In particular, Bymoen is concerned that the article said, “the minister responsible for corrections and policing, Christine Tell, stated she was not aware of the allegations until they were brought forward to her staff by the Star Phoenix.”
SGEU/NUPGE has been warning the provincial government about conditions within Saskatchewan correctional facilities for years, repeatedly reporting that inmates are crammed into every available space, — sleeping on the floors of classrooms, chapels and gymnasiums — and have limited access to washrooms and showers.
Ministry's claims of ignorance hard to believe
The problems have also been raised in numerous media articles, including an October 7, 2014, editorial in the Prince Albert Daily Herald that cited grim details such as inmates having to urinate in garbage cans due to the lack of bathrooms. At that time, the Ministry of Justice downplayed the concerns.
In a 2010 news release, SGEU reported that “front-line workers have been telling management for years that the violence in the facilities is escalating due, in part, to overcrowding.” That news release also identified other dangerous issues such as understaffing, substandard facilities and a lack of training.
The same issues were raised in a 2014 news release, which announced that “chronic overcrowding and understaffing ... is moving the corrections system closer to a crisis point.” And in March 2015, another SGEU/NUPGE news release pointed out that some inmates were going without washroom or shower facilities, and that overcrowding contributes to increased violence. These are the same concerns that were raised in the letter by Saskatoon inmates.
Investigation long overdue
SGEU/NUPGE is alarmed that, after years of warnings from corrections workers and stories in the media about overcrowding and other escalating problems in the correctional system, the government is saying it didn’t know about the issues until the letter from the inmates. The union is also concerned that the government responded to the inmates’ letter by announcing an internal investigation with no clear timelines or goals.
“This investigation needs to be done quickly to address a situation that remains inhumane for inmates and unsafe for correctional workers and communities,” says Bonnie McRae, Chair of SGEU/NUPGE’s Legal Inspection and Regulatory. “The concerns raised are not new — they have been raised repeatedly by SGEU/NUPGE. An investigation is long overdue.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE