Yukon News

Inmates complain new jail has problems

Roxanne Stasyszyn Friday March 23, 2012

Mike Thomas/Yukon News

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One of the cells at the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre say the new $70-million jail has lots of problems.

They say the heating doesn’t work, the lights don’t turn off, the toilets keep backing up, the automatic locks don’t work and the daily schedule - including the times when they receive their medications - is out of whack.

Some parts of the building are also still under construction, said a handful of inmates who contacted the News this week.

“The new jail is worse than the old jail, in my eyes at least, ” said inmate Steven Wolfe.

Bob Riches, assistant deputy minister of community justice and public safety and the official who decided the inmates would move to the new building last week, said some of these claims are true.

“Nobody knew but me, for security reasons mainly,” said Riches about when the move would take place.

“I wasn’t compelled by anybody. I pulled the trigger for the move when I was confident that all the life-safety issues in the building were resolved. I knew there would be little things because I’ve opened jails before.

“I knew there would be minor issues with systems. That would happen if we opened it three months from now because it’s a brand new building.

“At the end of the day, I made the best decision I could, considering the risk. And it’s on me. I’m the guy that made that decision.”

Although Riches hadn’t heard about any power problems, he said there are “minor issues with systems,” including the heat.

The contractor is now rebalancing the heating system, he said. Inmates who are cold have been offered extra sweaters and blankets.

One inmate’s claim that a group of four others were dragged off to “the hole” or segregation after requesting more blankets is false, said Riches.

However, four inmates were taken, without force, to segregation on March 16 for “attempting to incite a disturbance,” he said.

As for the locks, he said the guards are unlocking each cell individually for safety reasons.

But the automatic button to unlock them all, in case of a fire, for example, is working, he said.

Some of the toilets have been backing up, he said.

A new system was installed in the toilets, which includes a large hook to catch any oversized material, like clothes, he said. If the hooks catch something, the water begins to back up behind it, resulting in overflow.

In both cases of plugged toilets brought to his attention, the inmates admitted putting paper towels down the toilet after using them to clean their cells.

For security reasons, the lights in the living quarters will never be turned off completely, only dimmed, he said.

And the building’s construction is now completely finished and accessible, he said.

There was a delay in accessing the visiting rooms “because of internal processes.”

The Healing Room, where inmates can go for spiritual programming, also took a few extra days to open while high-security glass was put in to replace what was there, he said.

Finally, the schedule, including that for doling out medication, has not changed but the procedure has, he said.

Instead of taking a cart around to each dorm, the inmates are now released from one unit at a time to go to the medical kiosk where nurses dispense medicines and answer questions.

This takes longer than the old system because it depends on how many inmates need to see the nurse and for how long, said Riches.

Starting three years ago, the jail guards have been training to run and operate the new building, he said.

“We brought in experts to train staff on running this building and have trained them fully to respond to any emergency,” he said. “We are confident that all of staff were well prepared.”

The decision to move was prompted by the overcrowded and stressful situation at the old jail, said Riches.

“The inmates were housed in a building that was initially meant to house 36 inmates,” he said, adding that the new building was 99 per cent ready, and the staff 100 per cent prepared.

“We looked at the risk and decided it was safer for the inmates and staff to move now,” he said.

Still, inmates feel their concerns are getting brushed aside just like they were in the old facility, said inmate Norman Larue.

“We can’t call Elizabeth Fry because we’re told each time that it’s only for women and there is no John Howard Society in the Yukon,” he said. “No one from upper management will talk to inmates. The only option is ISO.”

The Inspections and Standards Office is the inmates’ complaints office.

But Larue said no matter what the complaint, the response is always the same -

they have spoken with administrators and are satisfied with their explanation.

All complaints are thoroughly investigated, said Riches.

“In not every case is the complaint valid,” he said. “And sometimes the answer ‘no’ isn’t acceptable to people. I guess not everybody is satisfied with the answer they get in the end.”

Any complaints made in the old facility that still need to be addressed have been carried over, Riches added.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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11 Comments

who cares wrote:
8:28am Sunday April 8, 2012

k to the guy who says wait till you see them on the street i say any given day. If Jail sucks theirs a less likely chance they will go back. Just because your dad or brother or whatever is in jail doesn’t mean law abiding citizens need to care.

EdtheTed wrote:
9:38pm Wednesday April 4, 2012

I love the people who spout ill considered cliches like “Who gives a flying f**k?!?!  They are INMATES!”. This kind of idiotic jibe fails to consider how these folks are inmates NOW, but will be released at some point (soon). Think of what you want incarceration to do to the folks you will meet on the street, in a bar, or behind the wheel of a car. You will certainly “give a flying f**k” then my man!

RALPH wrote:
10:37pm Monday March 26, 2012

what!! not free to come and go.televisions not big enough?what is the problem?NO COMPLAINING.YOU DO THE CRIME YOU DO THE TIME!!Lucky you got a new facility. what about the kids in bad need of a new school?they are going to wait because you could not BEHAVE!! SHAME ON YOU!!

Bubba Gump wrote:
6:21pm Monday March 26, 2012

@elizabeth jane:  Give me a break! LOL! Bleeding-heart liberals crack me up. I’m all for giving charity to legitimately disabled folks or having programs for the working poor.  These inmates made CHOICES, and they were very bad choices.  To use a different cliché, I would say that the inmates made their bed and now they have to sleep in it.  They are not “weak”, just dumb.  Inmates forfeit their full rights in civilized society when they commit UNCIVILIZED criminal acts that impact civilized society.  So, again I ask: Who give a flying f**k?!?! They are INMATES!

elizabeth jane wrote:
2:02pm Monday March 26, 2012

Thank you for writing this article Roxanne. It is most certainly news worthy. The voices of those who are spending time in the new facility deserve to be heard. Keep it up!
To those who have commented;
“Who gives a flying f**k?!?!  They are INMATES!”
“Why is this news and why should I care what criminals think?”
“wish i had a tv in my bedroom and when i throw a tantrum i can smash it against the wall”
Your notions sound naive and ill informed… not to mention inhumane… which make me very concerned about how you care about fellow citizens of Yukon. It has been said, by numerous people, in various ways; that you measure the degree of civilisation of a society by how it treats its ‘weakest’ members. Perhaps you should take heed!

crymeariver wrote:
3:05am Sunday March 25, 2012

why is there a flatscreen tv in the cell no wonder people in the yukon like to spend the winters in jail. wish i had a tv in my bedroom and when i throw a tantrum i can smash it against the wall

rogerdodger wrote:
11:02pm Saturday March 24, 2012

The old jail was an embarrassment. I don’t give a crap about comforts for the inmates, but I do care about trying to keep them clean (both health-wise and drug-wise). Rehabilitation is about trying to help already screwed-up people, not just keep them out of our faces. That said, 5 bucks says we’ll see a ton of homeless folks going to jail this winter to stay out of the cold.

Golfsierra47 wrote:
2:53pm Saturday March 24, 2012

This is news?

A_yukon_heart wrote:
1:45am Saturday March 24, 2012

Having spent five years working in the old facility, I can say that thew new facility will be a much better situation for the inmates and the officers. Undoubtedly there will be issues to work out, but the real issue here is that people that are incarcerated (like most people in everyday life) dislike change. There were many changes implemented by management during my employment at W.C.C. and usually these were not well received. The flow of contraband will be more difficult in the new facility and even though many inmates would think that is a bad thing, it is in fact better. It stabilizes the routine and helps to prevent extreme violent outbursts that are often the result of contraband that circulates in the jail. The inmates should feel safer as well, as there will only be a maximum of two inmates in a cell - as opposed to the open dorm setting of the old facility. As for lights, I can assure you that it is always a little uncomfortable doing hourly checks in the dark. Some low level light is a very good thing. I personally did not agree with the way that many decisions were made at the upper level of management, but this is a very positive step forward. Ultimately, jails are a place for no one to spend their lives - not the inmates and not the officers, but until we work out the kinks in the emotional makeup of society there will always be those that must be incarcerated, and those that have to work because of it.

Bubba Gump wrote:
11:33pm Friday March 23, 2012

Who gives a flying f**k?!?!  They are INMATES!  They should be thankful they live in Canada where our criminal justice system coddles them.  Why is this news and why should I care what criminals think?

flyingfur wrote:
10:42pm Friday March 23, 2012

On a recent tour of the new facility I noticed that there were no drains in the individual cells should a toilet overflow (often due to intentional plugging of the head by the inmate).  They might not get it the first or even the second time, but if the inmates wade around in their own crap long enough they’ll learn not to stuff things down the head.  By the way, I stopped reading the title of the story after “Inmates complain…”, I was not aware that that was news.

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