Correctional institutions seizing more weapons in Saskatchewan
More than 100 found in Saskatoon centre alone, says Ministry
By Jeff Cottrill
Health & Safety
(Canadian OH&S News) — An increasing amount of weapons have been seized in Saskatchewan prisons since June of last year, according to reported information from the province’s Ministry of Justice.
Particularly high numbers were discovered within the walls of the Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert Correctional Centres from June 2015 to June of this year, prompting the government to launch a status review on contraband in jails.
The Ministry did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment, but spokesperson Drew Wilby confirmed with local media on Sept. 26 that correctional employees at the Saskatoon centre had seized 127 weapons between June 1 of last year and June 30 of 2016. The Regina Correctional Centre reportedly seized 70 weapons from inmates over the same period, with 22 more found at the prison in Prince Albert.
“Pretty much all that has been seized inside the prisons. Some of it might get seized coming in searches,” explained Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), which represents the province’s correctional employees. “I’m aware of some of the incidences where they found weapons, and they found them in the centres.”
Bymoen noted that the numbers at least implied that searches of inmates and their cells were preventing potential violence. “One thing I think is positive in those numbers is that it is the corrections workers that are finding the weapons,” he said. “We do seize them.”
Most of the found weapons are handmade within the prisons rather than smuggled inside, according to Bymoen. “They make weapons out of almost anything,” he said. “In making them, they may take advantage of access to areas where you’d find weapons: kitchens, contractors, shops.”
Weapons reportedly seized at the Regina and Saskatoon centres include razors, shanks, knives and other makeshift weapons made out of wood or plastic. Shanks are homemade cutting instruments, usually fashioned out or metal or wood.
Bymoen pointed out that improvements in staffing and security would be necessary to prevent the acquirement or creation of weapons.
“What the corrections workers are asking for is adequate staffing levels to do the searches that are necessary and to provide the security that is necessary. And as well, adequate accommodations for the inmates,” he said. “The inmates are being housed in areas that were never designed to be inmate areas at times.
“And the overcrowding, it probably creates the biggest issue for them. It’s hard to keep people separated that need to be separated when it comes to gang activity.”
Bymoen and SGEU have been calling for better conditions at Saskatchewan prisons for a while. Last year, the union stated that correctional centres were facing “crisis-level conditions” in response to a letter from Saskatoon inmate Cory Cardinal detailing chaotic overcrowding (COHSN, Aug. 25, 2015). And last April, the union blasted the Ministry’s response to a recent prisoner escape in which two unarmed officers had been assaulted with bear mace (COHSN, April 19).
“Weapons are one thing, but there are a whole lot of other issues going on there,” said Bymoen.
“The Ministry overall needs to put more emphasis on oh&s, and budgets can’t be that restrictive, that they can’t fix things. It appears at times that that is a restriction.”