Prison watchdog issues scathing report into deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary
The Office of the Correctional Investigator has concluded that Correctional Service Canada’s (CSC) investigation into the 2016 deadly riot at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary was both “superficial and self-serving.”
On Tuesday, the 45th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (2017-18) was tabled before Parliament and featured a comprehensive review of the riot.
A violent rampage occurred on Dec. 14, 2016, among 131 medium security inmates serving time at the Prince Albert facility who refused to lockup and completely trashed parts of the prison – so much in fact that prisoners were sent to other institutions because areas were uninhabitable.
Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger raised concerns over the appropriateness and adequacy of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to investigate itself in the aftermath of a serious incident.
The most startling finding, Zinger said, is the National Board of Investigation (NBOI) only interviewed one inmate of 131 involved and relied mostly on management’s interpretation of events for its frame of reference.
“I think that anybody doing a thorough investigation would have interviewed more than one inmate in a situation when they’re trying to find out what happened with an inmate riot,” said James Bloomfield, with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
CSC’s internal National Board of Investigation concluded that the riot was a spontaneous and random event that could not have been predicted or prevented. The correctional investigator’s review of these events found otherwise.
“Its random event theory was not credible and the rest of its findings struck me as superficial, expedient and self-serving,” correctional investigator Ivan Zinger said.
“The officers, we do our own investigation as a union on something like this,” Bloomfield said.
“We talked to the officers’ side of the house and we did have more information than what CSC found so that’s very concerning to me.”
Bloomfield told Global News within days of the riot that it was sparked over inmates being unhappy with food portions, a violent outburst that would ultimately result in an estimated $3.6 million dollars in repairs to the institution.
According to this latest annual report, even Zinger concluded food quantity and quality issues were contributing factors to this riot, contradicting CSC’s claim that the riot was unrelated to food services.
“If the service doesn’t see any underlying issues but a third-party such as the Office of the Correctional Investigator can see the reasons and a build-up to this,” Bloomfield said.
“What is corrections looking at then?”
Another area of concern noted in the report related to the riot was the underlying Indigenous composition and gang dynamics of the riot that were ignored by the NBOI.
“I have recommended to the minister of public safety that CSC should not investigate itself in rare circumstances involving a riot, death or suicide in solitary confinement, or death following a use of force intervention,” Zinger stated.
Bloomfield alleges the riot is just another example of how the CSC is minimizing things, and why correctional officers lose faith in management when there is a lack of a true investigation as it puts staff as well as inmates in danger.
“If we go with just CSC’s version of events at that point we don’t have anything to change,” he said.
On Tuesday, CSC provided a response to some of these allegations including why only one inmate was interviewed as part of its investigation.
“Operational measures had been taken to ensure the safety of inmates and staff after the riot, and there was an ongoing police investigation,” the statement read.
“As such, in addition to interviews, investigators relied on information reported by a number of inmates to staff members and police regarding the riot.”
CSC confirmed that it continues to integrate lessons learned from the riot into its daily operations to ensure that similar situation can be prevented in the future.
It will also use the findings of the subsequent investigation to address the factors that resulted in the tragic incident.
As far as the NBOI looking into circumstances when they first occurred, CSC believes the evidence presented in that report that has now come under fire is based on its own merits and can be substantiated.
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