A report into a deadly prison riot at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary said it was likely triggered by disputes over food, perceived mistreatment of inmate kitchen staff and small cells.
Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator of Canada, said “a lot must go wrong, and for quite some time, before a prison erupts in violence.”
One inmate was killed and eight injured during the riot on Dec. 14, 2016 that started when inmates refused to report to work and a lockdown of the institution was ordered.
As many as 200 medium security inmates took part in the riot that caused an estimated $3.6 million in damage and left some cells uninhabitable.
Zinger wrote that “prison administrators have opportunity and warning to address precipitating factors and thereby prevent a full-fledged riot from occurring in the first place.”
He added that issues with food, or anything else for that matter, does not justify the loss of human life or the destruction done to the prison that day.
“The whole issue about food, which was about quality and quantity of food, was one of several triggering events and I think the service has to investigate on it and make sure they incorporate lessons learned moving forward,” Zinger told Global News.
“If there are legitimate issues, they have to be resolved and there has to be constant dialogue between the correctional employees and the inmate population to resolve issues,” Zinger said.
Zinger said he visited the penitentiary after the riot to see if there were other plausible explanations for the riot beyond bad or inadequate food.
“I noted that some of the cells in that forbidding and antiquated facility housed two inmates even though there is barely adequate space for one,” Zinger wrote.
“Standing in the middle of another cell, I could reach out and touch the sides of both walls.”
He added that “long after the rage of the riot had been quelled, a palpable sense of tension lingers in that facility.”
“Incredibly, follow-up visits by this office have noted continuing issues with food at this facility.”
Zinger said the majority of people housed at Saskatchewan Penitentiary and the Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba are Indigenous and the facilities are not responsive to their unique needs.
“The antiquated conditions of confinement that prevail in these two institutions are not conducive to modern and humane correctional practice,” Zinger noted.
He has recommended that findings from the National Board of Investigation into the riot be widely circulated within Correctional Service of Canada and be released as a public document.