Inmates in Northern Canadian jail say conditions deteriorating since June riot
WARNING: This story contains some explicit language
Some inmates at the Baffin Correctional Centre say conditions have gotten worse for them since a riot two weeks ago.
Calling CBC News in Iqaluit (Nunavut capital) on Friday morning, multiple inmates in the jail’s Delta unit said they’re being kept in their six-person cells for more than 20 hours a day with only a deck of playing cards to pass time.
Delta unit is typically used to hold inmates who are classified as maximum-security, but the inmates say not all of them fall under that classification. Twenty-six inmates from the jail’s Charlie unit were involved in the riot that damaged their unit last month, police said at the time.
Inmate at Baffin Correctional Centre
The Delta unit inmates complained that they have no cable television and can’t access rehabilitation programs.
“We’re understanding of the fact that there’s very limited things they can do right now. But at this point, it feels like they’re blowing a bunch of smoke in our face,” said one Delta unit inmate, who said he spoke on behalf of all inmates in the unit.
He asked not to be named for fear of repercussions for speaking out.
“They’re trying to use the [riot] as an excuse to keep the circumstances like this. We’re trying to work with them, but right now we feel like we’re not being heard at all.”
Long lockdown, no help, bad food
The inmates say they’re only allotted 30 to 45 minutes of “fresh air time,” another 30 minutes to choose between going to the gym or using the phone, and a half-hour of leisure time. The rest of the day, they say they’re locked in their cells.
“This morning, we woke up, tried to voice our concerns. And instead we got threatened with a 24-hour lockdown,” the inmate said.
They also say they have no access to substance abuse help, to a course on alternatives to violence, or reintegration programming.
CBC News asked Nunavut’s Justice Department for an interview on its policies. The department refused, citing privacy reasons.
Inmate at Baffin Correctional Centre
“As a temporary measure until repairs can be completed, inmates placed in the Delta unit have limited time outside of their cell,” a department spokesperson said in a statement instead.
“The corrections division has taken additional measures to make this temporary situation more bearable, including additional fresh air time, and making TVs and board games available for inmates in the unit. Inmates in the Delta unit are able to interact with their cell mates.”
A spokesperson added: “while fresh air time is generally reserved for weekends, due to the facility constraints this has been extended to every day.”
The inmates also say they’re tired of eating expired food.
“All the dried stuff, all the cereal, the yogurts, the jams, all the condiments, the butters. Man, I’m seeing guys literally puking after their meal because of the f–king bad shit they eat,” the inmate said.
“This morning we got cereal. Man, it smells like nail polish. That’s how expired it is.”
Inmates who called CBC said the jail’s decrepit conditions may have been the reason behind the rioting.
“When the window was open I could hear [other inmates] saying they’re sick of eating expired food, and we’re treated like dogs,” said Mosa Qanguq, an inmate inside Delta unit who agreed to be named.
More rioting considered
The inmates say they’ve considered escalating things, by way of rioting or other means, but they know it will only make things worse.
“That’s exactly what we thought about this morning [but] we know what that’s going to lead to. It’s going to lead to the same cycle going on. It’s going to lead to us being thrown in [solitary confinement] or getting transferred out of the territory,” the inmate said.
“The last thing we want is confrontation. But we are willing to go to extremes to be heard at this point. We’re trying to get things done in a civilized manner.”
The June riot saw some 40 inmates sent to Ontario. The temporary accommodations will cost taxpayers $285 per day, per inmate, to house them out of the territory, according to the Justice Department.
No one has been charged in relation to the riot, though the RCMP says charges are pending.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Prison in Canada’s eastern Arctic ‘appalling’ and should be closed, report says, CBC News
Finland: Officials in Finnish Lapland decry police department closings, YLE News
Russia: Russia charges former Norwegian border inspector with espionage, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Bigger prisons for more prisoners, Radio Sweden
United States: Police officers in Alaska villages hired despite criminal record: report, Alaska Public Media