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Female inmates complain about conditions at provincial jail


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Sleepy Hollow cells

She used to call it the Sleepy Hollow Hilton, but after a brief stay at the provincial jail Kelly Hawes stopped using that name.

“I wouldn’t go so far as saying that’s what it would be today,” she said.

Hawes, 47, was in the provincial correctional centre in May for missing a court date and spent 19 days with other inmates who are complaining about the conditions at the centre.

When she left, Hawes took with her a pair of letters that described the conditions women face and included several pages of complaints about their treatment at the correctional centre.

The complaints included cramped quarters, no seats on the toilets and allegations of verbal abuse by guards.

Because of an increase in the number of inmates at the facility, the women were moved into the new wing that was built to house people serving weekend sentences and can hold about 135 female inmates at peak times.

Complaints about the correctional centre surfaced in a recent court case during which a woman argued she shouldn’t be sent to jail because the conditions were so bad.

Hawes was in a cell with seven other women, some of whom she described as being institutionalized and she said no one was saying they shouldn’t have been there.

“You do the crime you do the time,” she said.

But what the women were complaining about was the conditions in an environment that was built for male offenders serving weekend sentences, yet is housing women over the long-term.

One of the letters, signed by “the concerned female unit,” described the conditions as horrific with a loud door that opens every 20 minutes when the guards check on the inmates.

The women also said the arrival of weekend inmates is disruptive and leads to mean or out of control behaviour from younger women.

A second letter, signed by the female inmates, complained of contraband passing between women serving weekend sentences and those serving straight time because they are housed together.

Among the complaints, the women alleged it took four hours to get toilet paper on Easter Sunday, lights are left on overnight, which made it hard to sleep, and the guards yelled at the inmates calling them junkies and druggies.

The women finished their letter by inviting Justice Minister Doug Currie to spend some time at the correctional centre with them.

“Minister Currie with the fall election coming up you should come spend a weekend with us and bring your own toilet seat,” the letter read.

Hawes said the women face different conditions than the men, including an exercise yard, called a bullpen, that’s too small for any recreational activities.

“You couldn’t even have a basketball or a Frisbee because there’s no room to throw it,” she said.

Hawes also said the bathroom door is locked in the gym and there was one case where a woman had to urinate in a garbage can.

In another case, she said when one woman in a neighbouring cell cut her wrists, the guards stripped her down and put her in solitary confinement where she was left naked with cameras watching.

But Kim Kempton, the jail’s manager, said there are policies and procedures in place to handle that type of situation if it arises and an inmate wouldn’t be left alone if they needed medical attention.

“Not at all,” she said.

Kempton said it was hard to comment on some of the issues the inmates because there haven’t been official complaints lodged.

Since the issue was raised in court, lawyers for the Crown and the woman took a tour of the facility and Kempton said they found the conditions were appropriate.

“It was deemed that the conditions were acceptable and the arguments were dropped in court.”

Kempton said the jail did address some concerns from inmates, such as dimming lights throughout the night and hanging curtains in the cells, but some changes can’t be made because of security issues.

“There is a certain amount of privacy that ends when you come to our building.”

She also said there wouldn’t be situations where an inmate would not be allowed to go to the bathroom.

“Never.”

Hawes said she accepted the situation at the jail for what it was, but it’s worse for long-term inmates.

“I don’t know how those women don’t tear their hair out,” she said.

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

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