Inmates 'taking control' at HMP: NAPE's Carol Furlong

The leader of the union that represents prison guards is reiterating the call for more staff and resources at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.
NAPE President Carol Furlong says inmates at HMP in St. John's are taking over control of the prison from the guards. (CBC)

The leader of the union that represents prison guards in Newfoundland and Labrador is demanding more staff and resources at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.

NAPE president Carol Furlong said a ruckus on Tuesday night at HMP proves that prison culture is changing, and getting more dangerous for workers. 

"When you have that kind of volatile activity going on, there's always concern for the people who are left on the units, for the people who have to go back into that unit not knowing what's going to happen when you get there," said Furlong. 

A Belfor truck is parked within the walled boundary at HMP after a dozen inmates caused nearly $100,000 in damage following a 'disturbance' Tuesday evening. (CBC)

There were fewer than 10 correctional officers on duty when a dozen inmates caused $95,000 worth of damage. Among other things, they tore heavy cell doors off their hinges and destroyed drywall ceilings and bulkheads. 

This latest incident at HMP was the fourth in less than a year. Officials said it began when one of the inmates said he felt unsafe and indicated that something was going to happen.

"He came up and alerted staff that he feared for his safety, and as per protocol he was immediately removed for his own protection," Assistant Superintendent of Prisons Owen Brophy told reporters.

Staff asked inmates to go to their cells, but 12 inmates in cell block 4A refused.

After that, the guards on duty also began to feel unsafe and left an area that was out of control. An emergency response team was called in, as was the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary for backup.

Rowdy inmates

Furlong said the gravity of the situation was evident through the protocol the correctional officers had to follow in response to how the rowdy inmates were acting.

"We're seeing people who really have no concern for what's happening in the prison. They're taking control," Furlong said. 

"They have no concern for safety issues. They have no concern for protocol and the rules." 

By the time the RNC arrived, all inmates were reported to be lying down, with those who acted out having surrendered peacefully.

However, Furlong wonders what would have happened if the events unfolded differently. "All kinds of things are taking place in your mind," she said.

Despite reassurances from the Department of Justice, Furlong said correctional officers have little faith that their concerns are being taken seriously.

With files from Krissy Holmes and Debbie Cooper