Province praises prison staff for preventing further violence as SGEU calls for more resources

The Saskatoon Correctional Centre. Gord Waldner / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The provincial government is crediting the hard work of corrections staff for quelling an outbreak of violence in Saskatoon’s jail.

Assistant deputy minister of corrections and policing Drew Wilby said it’s because of staff that two fights didn’t spread further.

His comments came as the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) called for more staff and more secure beds to address a rise in violence in both the Saskatoon and Prince Albert provincial correctional centres.

SGEU put out a press release Friday morning calling on the provincial government to hire more staff and deal with overcrowding to help combat rising violence and rival gang feuds.

“We are hearing from our members that these centres are a powder keg waiting to explode,” said SGEU president Bob Bymoen.

“We are seeing more violence against inmates and against correctional officers. Our staff do not feel safe, yet management won’t listen to the concerns of our members or take their advice on how to combat these problems.”

SGEU said that in addition to the two violent incidents in Saskatoon, other centres, such as Prince Albert, are seeing as many as three or four inmate assaults per day.

The union attributed the rise in violence to an increase in gang violence and an inability to keep these factions apart due to a lack of space.

“We know that overcrowding and a lack of staff is creating a very volatile situation at all the correctional facilities around the province,” Bymoen said.

“We need to see the ministry invest in more secure beds, more staff and more resources to deal with this very concerning issue.”

According to the province, though, the violence was sparked when two gangs who have traditionally gotten along began feuding. The fights were between the Westside Outlaws and the Indian Posse, who have “historically gotten along very well,” Wilby said.

‘They’ve been affiliated with one another and we’ve been able to house them together.”

Recently, though, something changed.  Wilby said corrections staff aren’t sure what caused it, but they know the two groups don’t get along anymore.

‘We’ve now had to reorganize the living structure of Saskatoon Correctional to make sure we have isolated those two gangs from one another.”

That change involved moving about 40 per cent of the prison’s population around, he said. It also resulted in some changes in Prince Albert facilities and youth facilities across the province.

Thanks to the intelligence staff was able to gain, and to the swift action to isolate the feuding groups, further violence was prevented, Wilby said.

“They prevented two or three other fights from occurring,” he said.

“That’s kudos to them and the good work they’re doing. What’s important is to try to stay ahead of that and make sure these gangs stay apart from each other in our facilities so our staff aren’t threatened and their safety isn’t threatened, and ht other inmates living in the facility aren’t threatened either.

“The folks in Saskatoon have done an excellent job trying to isolate these incidents as best as they can.”

The nature of the correctional system is things can change at a moment’s notice, Wilby said. He said he is “confident” that the issue is handled at this time. While it was isolated to Saskatoon, it puts other facilities, such as the ones in Prince Albert, on notice as well. Each centre then takes action, Wilby explained.

He said corrections has also reached out to SGEU and is hoping to meet with them next week.

“Our staff are our number one resource,” Wilby said.

“They go to work every single day and put their safety on the line to ensure that communities across the province are safe. I appreciate what SGEU has raised. Having said that, we’re in constant conversation with SGEU about these issues. We’re hopeful they will take us up on (our) offer about what it is they’re hearing from their members and what their concerns are.

“The SGEU is important, but (no (resources) are more important than our own staff. We have to make sure we’re listening to them and … addressing their concerns on the floor level.”