Prince Albert Canada Dec 18 2016 Canada’s prison watchdog is investigating the deadly 24-hour prison riot that left one inmate dead and several other injured at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.
The riot started Wednesday afternoon, forcing the federal institution to lock down its medium and maximum-security units.
Canada’s correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, said his office has dispatched two staff members to collect information from the scene.
“I always find news of these incidents to be quite devastating. It means that people’s personal safety had been put at risk — both inmates and staff,” he said. “It’s very difficult to regain and restore balance in an institution after an incident like that.”
He said the riot will have increased tensions between inmates and prison staff and could have lasting effects.
“It can be a very dangerous time for an institution and this is very worrying,” he said.
Sapers noted the Saskatchewan Penitentiary has undergone “major construction projects” in recent years to bring its medium- and maximum security units under the same management and that this type of violent and quickly escalating situation is not typical in medium-security facilities.
Such incidents usually start with a “triggering event” that sparks violence, Sapers explained, noting it’s his understanding that the trigger in Prince Albert may have been “food service, or the quantity and quality of food.”
While there are usually a “constellation of issues” that lead to a breaking point, food itself is critical, as it’s foundational to an inmate’s ability to stay healthy and take advantage of programs aimed at rehabilitation, he said.
“Anybody that’s had a career in corrections will tell you that the one thing you don’t mess around with is food.”
Sapers said prisons across the country face challenges in that area, as more standardized menus are being used to feed an ever-changing population with varying needs.
While at the prison, his staff will collect concerns from inmates and observe the conduct of Correctional Services Canada staff, ensuring that policies are being adhered to and that medication rounds and fresh-air exercise still takes place, he said.
“Those are my immediate concerns. We’ll be trying, as time goes on … to gain a better understanding about what led up to the incident (and) why it escalated so quickly and so dramatically.”
Sapers told The Canadian Press that Saskatchewan Penitentiary received the most complaints of any penitentiary in the country last year —
413 complaints about issues including food, health care, family visits and access to parole hearings from inmates at the facility.
Correctional Services Canada spokesman Jeff Campbell said lockdown procedures were still in place Friday and visitations remain cancelled.
CSC Commissioner Don Head was at the penitentiary on Friday to lend “ his support and assistance,” according to a statement from the office of federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
James Bloomfield, prairie region president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said negotiations between staff and prisoners in an attempt to stop the riot quickly broke down as prisoners were not willing to negotiate.
He said the riot involved all 185 inmates in the medium-security portion of the prison and damage was widespread.
He said inmates concealed their identities using articles of clothing as they broke windows and lights, ripped parts of the unit’s heating system off the walls and lit fires within the area. Surveillance equipment in the jail was also damaged during the riot.
While all of the information is preliminary and the incident is under investigation, initial reports indicate that six inmates received minor injuries as a result of shotgun pellets. He said corrections staff reported to him that three other people taken to hospital “had wounds that were consistent with stabbing and with serious assaults.”
“I cannot say — and I really do not know — exactly what injuries were on the inmate that passed away or the other ones that are in the hospital,” he said.
Bloomfield said “everybody is just taking a few breaths and trying to understand everything that’s gone on,” noting he feels it shouldn’t have an effect on staff and inmate relations.
Jason Leonard Bird, 43, was found among three inmates with serious injuries as staff were securing the ranges. A CSC release indicated he died as a result of injuries “that appeared to result from assaults by other inmates” during the riot.
A close family member said Bird’s relatives and friends will gather in Prince Albert over the weekend for a traditional wake and funeral.
The statement from Goodale’s office said the minister was “continuously updated” throughout the incident and his “thoughts are with the family and friends of the inmate who passed away after the incident and with those who suffered injuries.”
CSC is now reviewing circumstances around the riot.
“Any time an incident like this occurs we must determine exactly what transpired and what lessons can be learned from it,” the statement explained.
It said staff at the facility are working to assess damages and make repairs and regular operations will resume when the warden determines it’s safe to do so.