Overcrowding, gangs causing increase Canadian prison violence: report
BY JEFF DAVIS, Vancouver Sun
Canada's prisons are becoming increasingly violent places due to overcrowding and gang activity, Canada's correctional investigator Howard Sapers said Wednesday.
"We're seeing more and more security incidents," Sapers told Postmedia News. "We're seeing more inmate injury, we're seeing more reported assaults of inmates on inmates, and inmates on staff.
"The conditions for violence are more present, and in part, that's got to do with more crowding," he said.
Canada's federal inmate population is growing faster than new prison units are being built, Sapers said, and will continue to do so despite the federal government's plan to construct more than 30 new prison units. As a result, placing two inmates in a single inmate cell — a trend called double-bunking — is happening more often.
In his recent annual report, Sapers said rates of double-bunking have increased by 50 per cent over the past five years, and more than 1,300 — or 10 per cent — of all male inmates now share cells.
"We're seeing an increase in violence related to accommodation," he said.
"Double bunking jeopardizes institutional safety for both staff and offenders."
Canada's prison population is 13,286, according to most recent statistical data from Correctional Service of Canada. The total offender population — including those on parole and those unlawfully at large — is 22,749.
Stuffing more prisoners into Canada's prisons is increasing tensions between inmates, and creating a pressure cooker atmosphere, Sapers' report said.
"As population pressures increase, we are likely to see increased incidents of institutional violence," his report said. "When filled to capacity and beyond, federal penitentiaries tend to be very noisy and chaotic places."
Sapers expressed serious concern that between 2007-08 and 2008-09 there was a major spike in the number of injuries of inmates and guards alike.
"Inmate injuries increased from 138 to 222 cases, while staff injuries increased from 86 to 139 cases," his annual report said.
Sapers said prison guards are getting tougher in their response to security threats. He said that between 2008 and 2009, there was a 25 per cent jump in use of force incidents on inmates by guards.
Particularly disturbing, he said, is the increased reliance on guns to threaten and to intimidate inmates.
The most egregious example of abuse of prisoners, he said, occurred at the Kent Institution outside Agassiz, B.C. In January 2010 the prison was on lockdown as guards searched the prison for a zip gun, or improvised firearm.
For 10 days the prison was searched, with all inmates being made to strip naked in the yard while searches were conducted. A heavily armed and armoured tactical team — which was a pilot project peculiar to Kent Institution — was called in to provide "lethal overwatch."
Inmates were docile and offered no violent resistance, but the tactical team threatened inmates with assault rifles.
"They pointed live, charged firearms at the bodies and heads directly at inmates who were compliant, many of whom were already shackled," Sapers said. "What doesn't make sense is the degree to which they used violence and they used firearms to deal with that situation."
No zip gun was found in the searches, and guards gave untruthful reports of their actions over these 10 days. The tactical team was disbanded following Sapers' publication of a report called Unauthorized Force: An Investigation into the Dangerous Use of Firearms at Kent Institution Between January 8 and January 18, 2010.
In 2008, 8.37 per cent of federal offenders had gang or organized crime affiliations, but by 2010, gang membership rose to 9.19 per cent. Gang members were involved in 24 per cent of major security incidents in federal prisons in 2009-10.
"Gang-related activities pose a serious threat to safety and security, to CSC's efficiency and effectiveness in managing its operations units," the report said.
Sapers said there are population pressures on Canada's prisons system, and that the whole system is suffering as a result.
"Canadian Corrections has a very good reputation internationally, and is seen as a system to model after in many parts of the world," he said. "That reputation is in jeopardy because our ability to conduct our prisons at that level is in serious jeopardy."