'We need help': union says violence is spiking within Stony Mountain Institution
WNNIPEG -- The union representing correctional officers at Stony Mountain Institution is calling for changes after it says violent incidents and deaths have been spiking.
Since the beginning of January, five inmates at the federal penitentiary have died while in custody. There have been at least four separate reported incidents of stabbings at the institution so far in 2020.
The most recent of these incidents left two inmates of the maximum-security wing in hospital with significant injuries. RCMP charged six inmates at the institution, three of whom are facing charges of attempted murder.
The charges against them have not been proven in court.
There were four inmate deaths at Stony Mountain in 2019.
"The loss of life is always a tragedy," a spokesperson for the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) told CTV News in a written statement. "In all cases of a death in custody, we conduct a quality of care review to determine the facts surrounding a death. These reviews have resulted in improvements to our policies and practices in a continuous effort to prevent deaths in our institutions."
"The last couple years have been extremely violent at Stony Mountain Institution," said James Bloomfield, the prairie regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
Bloomfield says staff at the facility are also faced with this violence, and in some cases become a victim of it.
In April, CSC reported that an inmate slashed a correctional worker at Stony Mountain in the throat.
Bloomfield says there has been an "uncountable number" of stabbings and assaults that have increased "tremendously and consistently" over the past year in Stony Mountain.
He says in many cases, stabbings go unreported and are only discovered days after the fact when health care services find an inmate's wound infected.
"As a union and as officers, we are actually at this point very concerned over the amount of violence that has increased, over the amount of weapon seizures we're receiving, the amount of drugs in that institution – we are very very concerned," Bloomfield said.
UNDERGROUND DRUG TRADE FUELLING VIOLENCE: UNION
Bloomfield said Stony Mountain is grappling with what he called a 'multi-million dollar underground drug trade,' and a 'tremendous' amount of gang activity. He said these issues are fuelling the violence.
He says drones are used often to drop drugs into the facility, or drugs are thrown over the walls and fences. Bloomfield said some inmates have cellphones the size of a thumb, which are used to coordinate the drug drops with outside gangs.
Bloomfield said the union is calling for two things; a separation of certain gangs within the facility from the general population, and stricter repercussions for violence.
"We are wanting to see the population adjusted and separated to a point where we are not having to worry about the vulnerable inmates that are in there just trying to do their time and get out," he said.
"They are mixed in right with these gang members, and with all of this gang violence, and the instability that is in that institution right now within the gangs is detrimental to everybody's reintegration plan."
As for repercussions, Bloomfield said charges against inmates have little effect to deter violence.
"The repercussions aren't there – which in turn is encouraging this to continue," he said. "We're hoping for the repercussions to be implemented and to ensure that people are held accountable for violent incidents such as attacks, or holding weapons, or stabbings of course."
NO TOLERANCE FOR VIOLENCE: CSC
The CSC said violence is not tolerated in federal institutions, and criminal charges can be laid against those involved.
"CSC examines each incidence of violence to prevent and reduce future occurrences. CSC’s investigations into the circumstances surrounding the incidents at Stony Mountain Institution will assist in determining if practices need improvement to prevent such incidents," it said, adding it could not provide more detail as the investigations are ongoing.
COVID-19 ONE FACTOR IN BIGGER PROBLEM: UNION
Bloomfield said the COVID-19 pandemic has just added to the problem within the facility.
"It is one of many components; it is just a factor that has been added on to the current issues with the gangs and the current violence and weapons and all the sort of things that we've had problems with for a number of years at that site."
In a statement to CTV News, CSC said it has suspended all visits to inmates, temporary absences and work releases for offenders in response to the pandemic. It said both staff and inmates have been provided with masks, and it has put hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
It said as provinces across the country begin to lift restrictions, it will phase programs and activities back in. It said the timeline for this will vary.
UNION CALLS FOR MORE HELP
Bloomfield said CSC has been working with the union in the past week to improve safety for both inmates and staff. Due to security reasons, he could not specify what those changes are.
He said while some changes are happening, more needs to be done.
"What it really comes down to is, we are doing our best right now to work together to try to better our environment, but we do need things like external help," he said. "We do need help with those drones, we need help with the throw overs, we need help with the cellphones, and CSC doesn't seem to have technology that is assisting us right now."
CSC told CTV News it continues to work with the union to provide employees with a healthy and safe workplace.