The Chronicle Herald (Provincial)

Advocates call for action on jails


A group dedicated to fair treatment for prisoners in Nova Scotia jails is calling on government to fix some wrongs it sees in the incarcerat­ion system.

The East Coast Prison Justice Society released its report on conditions in jails on Monday, including a breakdown of what it sees as systemic failures and making 43 recommenda­tions related to the need for accountabi­lity and transparen­cy.

The ECPJS, founded in 2017, created a visiting committee to work with prisoners and bring concerns to administra­tors and the public, the report said. The committee began surveying conditions through in-person visits in February 2020, but COVID-19 derailed the process as facilities were closed. The committee had to shift to phone calls with prisoners, although those inside were less interested in phone conversati­ons than in-person visits.

“However, from prisoners' calls and reports of other contacts from service providers, families, and others, themes emerged indicating certain systemic problems in NS Correction­al Facilities,” the report said. “These included a reduction in the liberties of prisoners and in the transparen­cy of the jails, both attributed at least in part to system responses to COVID-19.”

Concerns raised included deprivatio­ns of liberty and related concerns, cleanlines­s and hygiene, communicat­ion such as access to calls with lawyers and families as well as visits, other concerns such as strip searching, racism, programmin­g and health care.

“The most common complaints related to lockdowns, as well as difficulty navigating and accessing healthcare,” the report said.

The four correction­al facilities in the province are the Central Nova Scotia Correction­al Facility in Burnside (Dartmouth), the Northeast Nova Scotia Correction­al Facility in New Glasgow, the Southwest Nova Scotia Correction­al Facility in| Yarmouth and the Cape Breton Correction­al Facility in Sydney.


“A lockdown refers to a period of time when people who are housed in a living unit, who would typically have access to the day room and programmin­g, instead remain locked in their cells,” the report said.

“Both during the first inperson visit to CNSCF, and persistent­ly throughout the year, lockdowns caused the greatest concern to all individual­s in custody with whom the VC spoke.”

Inmates reported up to 80 to 90 per cent of their time was restricted to a cell and said they were not allowed any time outside a cell, while others reported up to two hours a day outside. There was broad agreement that time outside of the cell was the most limited on weekends, reported as often less than two hours a day.

The prisoners attributed this to short staffing, as well as staff refusals to work.

“Callers reported that rising tensions in the facility because of lockdowns increased both in terms of their frequency and their perceived urgency," the report said, adding concerns included the risk of fights more often and referring to the range as “a powder keg.”

Administra­tors acknowledg­ed staffing issues and changed shift patterns in response, the report said. It also said there has been an attempt to reduce lockdowns as well as monitoring the rotations to ensure time out of cells is spread equally.

Key recommenda­tions from the committee include applying minimum standards of treatment, including guaranteed time out of cells each day, prohibitio­n on solitary confinemen­t for people with serious mental health problems, sufficient staffing and scheduling, and legislativ­e standards and/or public policies on lockdown recordkeep­ing and reasoning be put in place.

In response to reports of time outdoors being limited, the committee is recommendi­ng that staff ensure all inmates are offered the 30 minutes of outdoor tine mandated in provincial law, with adequate weather-appropriat­e clothing provided, and that written reasons for denying outdoor time be given.


Multiple callers described the close confinemen­t unit of the Burnside facility as “filthy,” the report said, claiming there was “food and fecal matter, as well as other potentiall­y biohazardo­us materials, on the walls of the cells in this unit.”

Cleanlines­s was also cited as concerns in other areas, the report said, with linens unchanged, lights broken and inadequate cleaning supplies provided.

The committee recommends that there be a mechanism of accountabi­lity regarding cleanlines­s of facilities and that all prisoners be given proper cleaning supplies.

The committee's further recommenda­tions touch on shower access, the provision of written informatio­n upon intake, free and private access to counsel, contact with family and friends, access to a library, spiritual services, smudging availabili­ty for Indigenous individual­s, delivery of programmin­g, addressing and preventing racism, stripsearc­h policies be developed in writing, consultati­on on developing a new system for distributi­ng methadone, suboxone or other medication­s, inmate committees and access to mental and physical health and dental care.

“ECPJS recommends investment of resources into community alternativ­es to incarcerat­ion, both in the form of remand and sentence,” the report said.

“During election time, we have an opportunit­y to assess our political leaders and their parties — not just their promises, but their actions — and to signal to them what they must do to earn and maintain the public's support and trust.”

Heather Fairbairn, spokeswoma­n for the Department of Justice, issued an emailed statement on Monday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all Nova Scotians. Correction­al Services has a comprehens­ive COVID-19 prevention plan in place and we continue to work closely with public health to maintain a safe environmen­t for persons in custody and staff in our facilities,” Fairbairn wrote.

 ?? ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD ?? The Central Nova Scotia Correction­al Facility in Burnside.
ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD The Central Nova Scotia Correction­al Facility in Burnside.

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