Jail staff spit on, punched in days be­fore lock­down

Records out­line 27 al­leged as­saults be­tween Nov. 1 and the end of 2017

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JONNY WAKE­FIELD

Staff at the Ed­mon­ton Re­mand Cen­tre were punched in the face or head on five sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions in the days be­fore a lock­down at the pro­vin­cial jail late last year, ac­cord­ing to records from Al­berta Jus­tice.

Of­fi­cials in De­cem­ber said the 12-hour lock­down by re­mand cen­tre staff was trig­gered by an in­crease in “se­ri­ous as­saults” on cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers. The re­ported vi­o­lence later led to re­stric­tions on how of­ten in­mates are al­lowed out of their cells. But the prov­ince pro­vided few de­tails about the na­ture of the al­leged as­saults.

Post­media filed a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest for sum­maries of as­saults on re­mand cen­tre staff in a two-month pe­riod that in­cluded the lock­down.

The records show 27 al­leged as­saults on re­mand cen­tre staff be­tween last Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, ac­cord­ing to the records ob­tained by Post­media.

Scott Con­rad, chair­man of Al­berta Union of Pro­vin­cial Em­ploy­ees (AUPE) Lo­cal 003 and a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer at the Cal­gary Re­mand Cen­tre, said it was a par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent pe­riod.

“There should never, ever — re­gard­less of what your job is — be an ex­pec­ta­tion of vi­o­lence,” Con­rad said. “Un­for­tu­nately, our mem­bers right now have ... an above av­er­age chance of wit­ness­ing or be­ing in­volved with some level of vi­o­lence on an al­most daily ba­sis.”

Dur­ing the eight-day span from Dec. 7 to Dec. 14, there were five as­saults, all of which in­volved in­mates punch­ing jail staff in the face or head.

On Dec. 7, a male in­mate set to be trans­ferred to the Fort Saskatchewan Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre “be­gan to ar­gue and then spit in the face of the staff mem­ber,” a sum­mary reads. The in­mate then punched the staff mem­ber in the face.

The fol­low­ing day, an in­mate punched a staff mem­ber in the face dur­ing a pat-down search, the sum­mary states. The day af­ter that an in­mate in a med­i­ca­tion line “breached” the staff sta­tion and be­gan to punch a male em­ployee in the head.

On Dec. 14, the day be­fore the lock­down, a male in­mate punched a staff mem­ber in the face while re­turn­ing to his cell in an un­pro­voked at­tack.

Ed­mon­ton po­lice said the in­mate, By­ron Bird, was charged with as­sault­ing a peace of­fi­cer af­ter an in­ci­dent that day. The doc­u­ments ob­tained through the free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest are si­lent on whether any dis­ci­pline or crim­i­nal charges stemmed from the re­ported as­saults.

Sev­eral pieces of in­for­ma­tion were redacted, in­clud­ing in­mates’ names, whether they had known men­tal health con­cerns at the time of the as­saults, the time of the as­sault and the lo­ca­tion within the jail be­cause the in­for­ma­tion could iden­tify the cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer.

Male in­mates were in­volved in 22 of the as­saults — more than 80 per cent. Fe­male in­mates were re­spon­si­ble for five.

An in­mate in­volved in a hunger strike last month said cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers were them­selves us­ing ex­ces­sive force. The prov­ince is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the claims.

Al­berta Jus­tice of­fi­cials said the re­mand cen­tre has since cre­ated a new sched­ule for time spent out­side of cells de­signed to ad­dress “be­hav­iour man­age­ment” is­sues af­ter De­cem­ber dis­cus­sions with the AUPE. In­mates at the re­mand are typ­i­cally in pre-trial cus­tody and have not been con­victed.

Un­der the new sys­tem, a “mi­nor­ity” of in­mates will have their time out of cells stag­gered or changed, said spokes­woman Louise McEachern. Time spent out­side cells is based on an in­mate’s be­hav­iour and the unit’s se­cu­rity level, and cur­rently ranges be­tween 31/2 hours and 11 hours per day, she said.

The 1,952-ca­pac­ity re­mand cen­tre was de­signed to al­low in­mates more time out of cells to make phone calls and ac­cess pro­grams. It also was built on a “di­rect su­per­vi­sion” model with fewer bar­ri­ers be­tween in­mates and staff, which of­fi­cials said would help cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers “main­tain di­rect and fre­quent in­ter­ac­tion with in­mates to help build ef­fec­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ships.”

Union of­fi­cials, how­ever, said at the time that the new model put staff at risk.

Gov­ern­ment statis­tics show an in­crease in over­all as­saults since the new re­mand cen­tre opened, but it’s dif­fi­cult to say how much of this can be at­trib­uted to a larger in­mate pop­u­la­tion and in­creased num­ber of cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers. (The down­town re­mand cen­tre which it re­placed in 2013 was built for 348 in­mates but was of­ten more than dou­ble ca­pac­ity.)

There were a to­tal of 1,057 as­saults at the re­mand cen­tre dur­ing the 2016-17 fis­cal year, Al­berta Jus­tice of­fi­cials said. That’s up from 894 in 2015-16.

In 2011-12, when the old re­mand cen­tre was still op­er­at­ing, there were 428 re­ported as­saults.

A spokesper­son said the statis­tics in­clude all al­leged and con­firmed as­saults at the re­mand cen­tre, but could not pro­vide a break­down of how many were in­mate-on-in­mate ver­sus in­mate-on-guard as­saults.

Con­rad, the union leader, said the ro­ta­tion sys­tem in­tro­duced a month ago makes work­ing at the re­mand cen­tre safer.

He added it was al­ready in place at other pro­vin­cial cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, as well as the old re­mand cen­tre.

Al­low­ing in­mates more time out­side cells can be a good thing “in the­ory,” he said. “How­ever, what we’re learn­ing — or hope­fully learn­ing — is that that does not al­ways mean that in­mates are go­ing to act ac­cord­ingly.”

(More time out­side cells) does not al­ways mean that in­mates are go­ing to act ac­cord­ingly.

IAN KUCERAK/FILES

Pris­on­ers were trans­ferred from the old re­mand cen­tre to the 1,952-bed fa­cil­ity in north Ed­mon­ton in 2013. The old cen­tre was built for 348 in­mates but was of­ten more than dou­ble ca­pac­ity.

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