BOARD OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE RIOT AT SASKATCHEWAN PENITENTIARY
On Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at 1300 hours there was a riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
Inmates in the medium security unit refused to attend work, and subsequently refused to lock up. Inmates in one area of the institution destroyed government property, barricaded the range barriers, armed themselves with weapons and shields and covered their faces. Other inmates reported that once the riot had started, they were fearful of these inmates if they did not participate, thus amplifying the riot.
In keeping with Criminal Code of Canada provisions, the Riot Proclamation was read by the Deputy Warden over the intercom system that reached the entire institution:
“Her Majesty the Queen charges and commands all persons being assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business on the pain of being guilty of an offence for which, on conviction, they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”
The reading of the Riot Proclamation had no effect on five ranges, but another range did lock up and did not participate, as one of the inmates was familiar with the Riot Proclamation and its Criminal Code consequences, which include additional sentences ranging from two years to life. By 1925 hours, the Emergency Response Team had secured the institution.
During the riot, three inmates were assaulted by other inmates. One of these inmates suffered significant injuries and later died, and the other two suffered serious bodily harm. In the end, 131 of the 475 medium security inmates (27.5%) on five ranges were involved in the riot, and the damage was estimated to be $3.5 million. Of the 21 inmates identified as principal inmates, 16 were involuntarily transferred to a maximum security institution. Both institutional and criminal charges were laid against many of the principal inmates.
At the time of the riot, there were 475 offenders in-custody at Saskatchewan Penitentiary Medium Security Institution. The average age of the population at the time was 35. Approximately 30% of all inmates were identified as being affiliated with a security threat group, 72% were serving a sentence for a violent offence, 60% were rated as being high risk and 66% were identified as having high needs. At that time, 77% had been enrolled in programs to address their criminogenic needs, such as violent behaviour, anti-social attitudes, substance abuse, education and employment.
There are various theories on prison riots and why they occur. The Board of Investigation into the riot found the riot was consistent with research suggesting that it emerged as a result of many intersecting factors. Although these preconditions did not cause the riot, the occurrence of a catalytic event may have sparked it. The Board identified the following situational factors that may have created an environment where a riot was more likely to occur:
- work and food related issues;
- ongoing negotiations and consultations between inmate representatives, kitchen staff and institutional management;
- the recency of changes within the institution’s management team; and
- the presence of an influential inmate personality who had a history of inciting other inmates to act out.
Despite actions taken to resolve some of these issues, the intersection of these multiple factors may have created the riot preconditions. The catalytic event that could have sparked the riot was the kitchen walk outs. Soon after a series of walk outs, inmates throughout the institution refused to go to work in what was reported to be a peaceful protest in support of the kitchen workers. However, during the work refusal, inmates on some ranges also refused to lock up. This behaviour escalated to the point where a riot started in those ranges and eventually spread to other ranges that were also refusing to lock up.
The resulting death and serious injuries suffered by inmates was a tragic outcome of the riot. Despite efforts to individually address issues prior to the riot, there are lessons to be learned. Specifically, when assessing the climate of an institution for potential risks and vulnerabilities, consideration should be given to how multiple factors may intersect and be used by instigators as a spark for collective violence.
The investigation also noted that inmates familiar with the consequences of participating in a riot locked up and did not participate. Therefore, the Board of Investigation recommended that all inmates be fully informed and understand the meaning of the Riot Proclamation, and be aware of the consequences for not adhering to the Proclamation once read, for hindering its ability to be read, and for participating in a riot.
Finally, the investigation found that once the riot started, the staff response demonstrated a well-coordinated and collaborative approach during the riot as well as in the days that followed. As the incident investigation process plays a key role in ensuring that the CSC adheres to the principles of responsibility, accountability and transparency, this investigation also provides CSC the opportunity to respond with appropriate and effective measures in order to assist in preventing similar incidents from happening in the future.
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