Manitoba Jail Over-crowding Could Lead to Prison Riots

Manitoba’s jails are crammed with far more inmates than they were ever intended to house.

The over-population has led to the conversion of jail basements, gymnasiums and program spaces into prisoner dorms and cells, according to sections of a report released this week.

“It’s a housing facility. There’s no rehabilitation for anyone,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which represents correctional service guards.

Manitoba jails housed an average of 149% of their capacity for a total 803-bed deficit at the time of the Adult Corrections Capacity Review Committee report.

The now-released sections offer a glimpse into the scope of the problem.

Headingley Correctional Centre, which had an average population count of 751 but was rated for only 485 inmates, converted a program space into a dorm to add 32 beds.

The Winnipeg Remand Centre had an average population of 379 inmates (rated for only 289) and “often, in recent times, this facility has housed in excess of 440 inmates,” the report states.

In Remand, 92 bunks were added to cells “to alleviate issues of inmates sleeping on the floor in a multi-accommodation situation in single cells.”

Gawronsky said cramped living quarters have pushed out programs meant to prevent prisoners from re-offending and heightened stress.

“The concern is we are going to have another riot as we did in Headingley 20 years ago,” she said.

Gawronsky said staff numbers don’t match the rise in the inmate population, forcing guards to work frequent overtime.

Kate Kehler, acting executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, echoed the concern that programming gaps could fuel recidivism.

“Overcrowding means that staff’s first concern will necessarily be security for all and so rehabilitative programing has and will continue to take a back seat,” wrote Kehler, in an email.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan confirmed some prisons have temporarily suspended programs to house more inmates but is aware of none that stopped permanently. And the incarcerated population keeps growing despite the addition of 900 beds since 1999.

“We know that the pressures are on the system and the prison counts continue to go up,” said Swan.

Swan noted a recently increased bed count includes some converted spaces, but also a new 160-bed wing at Milner Ridge.

The province also plans to replace the Dauphin jail with a larger facility, but its exact opening date and size aren’t yet determined.

Swan said the recruitment of additional corrections staff is also underway.

Tory Justice Critic Reg Helwer said the danger isn’t being properly addressed, since the Women’s Correctional Centre built in 2012 is already overpopulated.

“We have overcrowding that leads to a situation that could be very incendiary,” said Helwer.


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