NAPE protests as new questions are raised about prison security

Former inmate says guards allow violence to happen

James McLeod
Published on February 18, 2014
Around 50 correctional officers and supporters rallied in front of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s Monday, demanding immediate action to improve safety for guards and inmates at the prison. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

A little more than a week after a violent attack sent an inmate to hospital, about 50 correctional officers and supporters gathered outside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) demanding government take immediate action.

Justice Minister Darin King said that no immediate action is going to be taken, but the government is looking at options to improve safety conditions at the prison.

A review of safety at HMP is underway, but King said the government will keep the findings secret.

“It’s all about figuring out what happened and what we do to improve things; it’s not necessarily intended to drive public dialogue,” King said.

“I’m sure in the course of collecting information that there will be all kinds of information in there that will be very sensitive.”

Meanwhile, a former inmate of the St. John’s prison told The Telegram that staff knew that the attack was going to take place last Sunday, and they refused to stop it.

“They allowed it to happen,” Robert Powers said.

“In my particular unit, nobody went down to the church because we knew what was going on that day.”

Powers was aquitted of charges and released Friday, but he was in HMP since November awaiting his court date.

He said during those months, he spent a lot of time on lockdown.

“My unit was locked down for, I think, 28 days up to and including Friday when I was released,” he said. “Every unit gets locked down now and then, like if there’s a big racket or if there’s several inmates involved in an altercation.”

Correctional officer and NAPE board member Paul Taylor spoke to the media Monday at the protest outside the prison. He said the situation at HMP is getting harder to manage.

“There are gangs alive and well in our prison system,” he said. “Shanks are discovered down there in the prison on a weekly basis, so violence is alive and well.”

Both Liberal MHA Tom Osborne and New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers were at the protest.

When it comes to beefing up staffing at the prison — one of NAPE’s key demands — King said that’s something they’ll consider.

He had a meeting with several correctional officers earlier in the day, and said he’ll consider all of their suggestions.

“They probably raised maybe 15 or 16 items this morning. Some I suspect we’ll be able to address. Some we may not be able to address. Some may be budget items,” King said. “But whatever is within our ability to do, we’re certainly going to do.”

At the same time, he said he didn’t know the specific details off hand, but the prison budget was cut last year as part of widespread cost-cutting measures.

One concrete measure everyone agrees on that will eventually improve the prison system is a new prison.

King said he expects to be able to announce within a day or two that they’ve awarded a tender for initial design and site selection.

“That’s a big piece of what will kickstart this process, perhaps in a way to demonstrate to people that we’re serious about this,” he said.

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