BCC inmates moved because of overcrowding

Shortage of mental-health help isn’t why prisoners were transferred, officials say.



IQALUIT — Six Baffin Correctional Centre inmates were recently transferred to a facility in Yellowknife because of overcrowding, not because of a shortage of mental-health workers, a Department of Justice spokesperson said.

“It’s overcrowding, and to make room for more that we are expecting,” Paul Nuyalia, Nunavut’s acting director of corrections and community justice, said last week.

Nuyalia was responding to a CBC radio report stating the inmates were moved due to a lack of psychiatrists in Iqaluit.

With the crowded conditions at BCC, moving the six inmates to Yellowknife will give them better access to programs like the offender substance-abuse pre-release program, Nuyalia said.

A staff member, not a mental-health worker, administers the program in Yellowknife, he noted.

The May 14 transfer brought the number of inmates at BCC down to 63. Three days later that number had climbed to 70. The centre, which opened in 1985, was orginally designed to house about 40 inmates.

Nuyalia admitted that BCC’s mental-health worker is busy.

“Our psychologist here who does programming doesn’t have an assistant right now, so he’s juggling around a bunch of programs,” Nuyalia said. “We’re looking at training some staff in doing program delivery. They would be assisting the psychologist in running these programs.”

He said psychiatrists from Iqaluit’s hospital also visit BCC on occasion.

Nuyalia said the confusion about why the inmates were being moved arose when he cited one inmate’s situation to a reporter.

Every week, the inmate speaks on the phone with his psychiatrist in Yellowknife.

“For his benefit it was decided it would be better for him to be in Yellowknife to be near his psychiatrist, so he can better assess him with the medication he was prescribing him,” Nuyalia said.

The transfer of inmates from BBC to Yellowknife happens almost every two weeks because of overcrowding, Nuyalia explained. He said it’s been happening regularly since the Iqaluit facility was opened.

Nuyalia said an expansion of BCC is under way. Of the three uncompleted trailer units that sit outside the facility, one will become a programming building and the others will be living units for inmates on the work-release unit, he said.

“We’re kind of strapped for cash, so they’re not completed yet,” he explained. He said it’s hoped the trailers will be finished after the summer sealift.

Doug Donaldson of Iqaluit’s John Howard Society said moving inmates so far from home could be harmful.

“A lot of these people, their families are here,” he said. “So all of the sudden their families can’t just come in and bring them things.”

Nuyalia said he couldn’t comment on whether the transfer is hard for inmates.

“It’s pretty hard to say right now. We don’t know what they’re feeling right now,” he said.

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