Prison bosses secretly consider double-bunking

Collins Bay penConvicts at medium-security Collins Bay penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario, have refused to report to their prison jobs in a protest over double bunking, Cancrime learned. The practice forces two prisoners to live in a cell designed for one. Corrections Canada has dramatically increased its use of double bunking as it scrambles to accommodate a surging inmate population – the result of the Conservative government’s tough-on-crime policies. But it appears that senior prison bosses are secretly (internal memo after jump) building a documentary trail designed to rationalize their use of double bunking, which is contrary to UN standards on the treatment of prisoners.

An internal memo – of which Cancrime obtained a copy – forwarded last month to all of the top bosses in Corrections (the executive committee members) says the practice leads to only “minor negative outcomes.” CSC manager Nancy Stableforth explains in the memo that she conducted a review of literature on double bunking in New Zealand, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and found that “double bunking has not resulted in an unmanageable problem in these jurisdictions.”

The memo arrived in the hands of senior CSC officials just before double-bunking sparked tension, violence and an inmate strike at Collins Bay Institution, a medium-security prison in Kingston, Ontario. Convicts there refused to report to their prison jobs on June 28 and as of mid-day Wednesday, June 29, the strike was still underway. Convict representatives met with managers and provided a list of problems, including tension and violence because cellmates can’t get along, forcing some inmates to ask for protective segregation. That’s a dramatic step for an inmate to take, since “checking into seg,” as it’s known, causes a permanent stain on a con’s reputation. Inmates also complained of:

• not enough showers
• not enough washers and dryers
• not enough telephones
• not enough jobs and programs.

Inmates also complain that they have arrived at Collins Bay after time spent jammed into crowded provincial facilities like the Don Jail only to find they’ll serve their federal sentences in another overcrowded pen.

Prison staff, including correctional officers, don’t like double bunking. They say it only leads to tension and violence and more dangerous working conditions. Canada’s correctional investigator Howard Sapers has criticized the practice and its expanding use by CSC. Sapers says double bunking puts inmates and staff at risk. The use of double bunking also flies in the face of Canada’s commitment to the UN standards on the treatment of prisoners, which says it is “not desirable” to put two prisoners in a single cell (see p. 5 of PDF).

Despite the commitment, CSC secretly approved a plan last year to double its use of double bunking, an indicator of the service’s frantic attempt to find room for the thousands of new inmates pouring into the system.

Now, CSC’s top brass appear to be concerned about the potential negative effects of double bunking. But the memo from Stableforth appears to allay concerns, stating that “there are relatively few or no differences between inmates housed in single or double bunked cells in terms of illness complaints, incident reports, assaults and escapes.”

She reports few changes in staff attitudes with the implementation of double bunking.

“Minor negative outcomes of double bunking have been identified including inmate lines at bathroom facilities and in eating facilities, a shortage of inmate jobs, and a need for modifications to staffing ratios and duties,” the memo states. This list of “negative outcomes” mirrors some of the complaints that have prompted the inmate strike at Collins Bay.

Stableforth’s memo concludes that “overall, double bunking does not appear to be a major problem for staff or inmates, particularly if inmates are housed with compatible cellmates.” Last year, a serial killer admitted to murdering his cellmate in a prison in British Columbia.

Stableforth’s memo appears to set the stage for prison bosses to say  (if bad things happen as a result of double bunking) that they studied the potential negatives of double bunking and determined it’s a reasonable strategy that can be employed safely. Of course, that depends on “coinciding increases in staff as well as programming, medical and mental health services,” the internal memo notes.

Sources tell me that CSC is struggling just to train enough correctional officers to staff its expanding prisons and also is grappling with new problems that have arisen because of new, open-concept style prison cellblocks being erected across the country. At Collins Bay, for instance, staff are battling with management because of the inability of correctional officers to talk to each other when all of the noisy 96 prisoners in one, open-concept living unit are roaming free from their cells. Staff have warned managers that the issue is leading to security problems.

Here’s the internal memo on double bunking sent last month to senior prison officials:

Internal Corrections Canada memo on negative effects of double bunking

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