PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – A Correctional Service Canada report says a walkout by prisoners working in the kitchen could have been the catalyst for a riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary that left one inmate dead and eight others in hospital.
The final report says a number of issues were already brewing at the medium-security prison in Prince Albert before violence erupted on Dec. 14, 2016.
The National Board of Investigation found work- and food-related concerns, ongoing negotiations between inmate representatives, kitchen staff and institutional management, plus changes in prison management contributed to prisoner discontent.
It also determined that the presence of an inmate with a history of inciting other prisoners to act out was a contributing factor.
The report says after the kitchen walkouts, other inmates refused to go to work and prisoners on some cell ranges refused to lock up, which escalated the riot.
Criminal and other charges were laid against several key inmates involved in the violence that lasted for about six hours and caused $3.5 million in damage before it was quelled by an emergency response team.
The report said inmates in one area destroyed government property, barricaded the range barriers, armed themselves with weapons and shields and covered their faces.
Other prisoners reported that once the disturbance began, they feared for their safety if they didn’t participate, which amplified the situation.
One of three inmates who were assaulted by other prisoners died. Of the 21 men identified as instigators, 16 were transferred to a maximum-security prison.
Investigators said the reading of a riot proclamation over the intercom system by the prison’s deputy warden had no effect on five ranges, but did result in one complying with a lockup order.
The board said there are lessons to be learned. It noted that when a prison is being assessed for risks, “consideration should be given to how multiple factors may intersect and be used by instigators as a spark for collective violence.”
The board also recommends that all inmates should understand that ignoring a riot proclamation can lead to longer sentences.
Ivan Zinger, Canada’s correctional ombudsman, released a report last fall which said the trouble is likely to have been sparked by disputes over food and small prison cells.
He called for an external audit of food services as well as for the reinstatement of a dispute resolution pilot program.
Zinger also recommended that findings from the board’s review be circulated within the Correctional Service of Canada and released as a public document when complete.
“Current research suggests that a lot must go wrong, and for quite some time, before a prison erupts in violence,” Zinger wrote.
“Such a perspective implies that prison administrators have opportunity and warning to address precipitating factors and thereby prevent a full-fledged riot from occurring in the first place.
“In other words, prison riots are not random or inevitable events.”