'Prisoners are under enormous life stress and just want to get out.'

Inmates fester at overcrowded BCC


About 20 inmates at Baffin Correctional Centre have spent recent nights crowded together on floor mats in the prison gym, beneath buzzing florescent lighting, says a legal aid lawyer.

The overcrowded conditions are enough to make some inmates want to plead guilty so they can do federal time in a prison in the South, said Chris Debicki, director of Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik Society.

"It's the total lack of privacy… and people sleeping with the lights blazing," he said.

BCC inmates have come to refer to the gym as "the mud room," because its floors become covered with mud left from inmates tromping in and out of the room.

The BCC was designed to hold about 65 inmates. It's been over capacity by an additional 20 inmates for the past several months, Debicki said.

Because the gym has become an overflow sleeping area, physical exercise for inmates has been limited, Debicki said.

"They're not even getting outside on a regular basis."

The result is growing discontent among inmates.

"Prisoners are under enormous life stress at BCC right now, and just want to get out of there," Debicki said.

The overcrowding also means that inmates held on remand, who are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent, and inmates serving sentences, who have been found guilty, are mixed together as a single prison population, Debicki said. The two populations are, in theory, supposed to be kept apart, he said.

Debicki said he thought the overcrowded conditions were a result of longer prison sentences, more people held on justice of the peace charges and the long waits that Nunavut residents face before trial.

The result, Debicki said, is an environment where inmates are not receiving nearly enough work, education or counselling to prepare them for release.

"If what we care about is rehabilitation, that just is not happening right now."

Markus Weber, deputy minister of justice, did not return repeated phone calls from Nunatsiaq News.

But, speaking on the radio earlier this week, Weber said BCC plans to ease the overcrowded conditions by sending more inmates to land camps, to the Kugluktuk minimum-security prison, and to prisons in Ontario and the Northwest Territories.

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