Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Baffin Correctional Centre - from today's National Post

From the Three Little Pigs we learn that it does not make a lot of sense, in a dangerous and scary world, to build a house out of straw or sticks. The wise piggy builds a home out of solid brick so no one can break down the walls.

Unfortunately that simple lesson was forgotten when Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit Nunavut was built in 1986.

Although currently holding some genuinely violent and dangerous individuals, the ranges at Baffin Correctional Centre are constructed of plasterboard and plywood. Inmates there can, and do, kick and punch holes in the walls of the prison.

Baffin Correctional Centre was designed as a minimum security facility for 41 inmates. When built, it was seen as a place to hold low risk offenders — people convicted of relatively minor offences or at least not offences of great violence. Today, it holds inmates accused and convicted of the most serious offences including some of extreme violence. Mental health issues abound, and while there are excellent psychiatric personnel, the facility is not designed for such inmates.

The layout of the centre is such that guards are often distant from inmates and much supervision is by video camera. That concept could work for a small number of non-dangerous offenders — indeed, for those types of prisoners a plasterboard and plywood facility might well be sufficient. But that is the situation as it exists today.

Today Baffin Correctional Centre holds over a hundred prisoners, cells are at three or four times holding capacity and some of the prisoners are dangerous and in need of close supervision and mental health assistance. Regardless of the work done by staff, the overcrowding with dangerous offenders makes safety a major problem.

The design of the facility together with the overcrowding makes proper control of the facility almost impossible

The medical facilities are a good example. The nursing station is very small and is a combined office, examining room and storage area — probably sufficient for a small number of otherwise healthy prisoners but woefully inadequate for the current population.

Violence is an ever present risk. The risks of violence extend beyond prisoners to guards, staff, medical personnel and visitors. The design of the facility together with the overcrowding makes proper control of the facility almost impossible.

Weapons and drugs are a major issue . Partly because of overcrowding close security of prisoners is almost impossible. Moreover the physical structure of the centre allows contraband to slip inside the facility. Indeed, a major source of weapons and drugs is gaps in perimeter security where contraband can be passed from outside to waiting inmates. At my last visit, I saw cardboard apparently blocking up a gap in the security perimeter. This is hardly the way a Canadian prison should operate.

An Inuk in, say, Lindsay, is isolated from his culture, language and, of course, family

The influx of weapons and drugs into the facility has added to risk. In private discussions with guards, I have seen cases full of contraband — literally pounds of illicit drugs — seized within a one month period. Weapons are taken from prisoners almost daily and these weapons pose threats not only to inmates but also to staff and visitors.

In fairness, the staff is remarkably sensitive to the need to foster rehabilitation for the inmates. While the situation is getting worse over time — and discussions with prisoners makes it clear that the anger engendered by overcrowding is not going away — there is a recognition of the special culture and needs of a largely Inuit inmate population.

The large majority of inmates are Inuit. While the centre does attempt to meet their specific cultural and linguistic requirements, the fact of overcrowding in itself makes running relevant programming very difficult. What is worse, many prisoners are sent south to facilities in Ontario. While the Ontario facilities have sufficient room, an Inuk in, say, Lindsay, is isolated from his culture, language and, of course, family.

The only way, long term, to address the problem is build a proper, high security institution in Nunavut that can accommodate perhaps as many as 200 inmates. North Bay, in Ontario, could serve as a model. Built for 121 inmates, North Bay is a maximum security facility that can accommodate all prisoners. While certain changes to the North Bay design might be sensible to make it more appropriate for the Arctic, just rebuilding the very facility that exists in North Bay would fix the problems at Baffin Correctional Centre.

Once a proper high security facility exists, the current facility could be renovated and used, as it was designed, for a small number of non-dangerous offenders.

Nunavut has grown, and so has, sadly, a prison population that needs proper housing. Baffin Correctional Centre simply won't do any longer.

National Post

James Morton practices law in Nunavut and Ontario. He is a past president of the Ontario Bar Association and is a member of the board of directors of Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan.

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