north-bcc100217

Nunavut justice officials have commissioned an independent assessment of the Baffin Correctional Centre, which has been overcrowded for years. ((CBC))

Nunavut corrections officials say overcrowding at the territory's only jail has reached a crisis point, as the facility is housing nearly twice the number of inmates it was designed to handle.

The Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit was built in the 1980s as a minimum-security jail, originally housing up to 46 prisoners.

This week, the run-down medium-security facility holds 88 inmates, including some accused of serious violent crimes.

Many inmates sleep in the gymnasium, which has been converted into a makeshift dormitory.

All-access tour

The situation at the Baffin Correctional Centre is frustrating Nunavut's justice officials, who took CBC News on an unprecedented all-access tour of the jail this week.

Inmates with severe mental disabilities are kept in a separate part of the jail, while everyone else — including those who are kept in custody while they await trial — are crowded into an area that was designed to hold half as many people.

"This is the washroom area, and there's, like, three urinals," Doug Strader, Nunavut's director of corrections, said during the tour.

"They have three urinals and three toilets, OK? And four shower stalls. And that's usually for a population of 55 people."

An inmate sitting on one of the toilets then yelled that the number was more like 72.

'Negative energy'

Another inmate, John Nutarariaq, said overcrowding at the jail is so bad that fights break out on a daily basis.

"There's a lot of negative energy in here," he said.

"If anything goes down and the inmates go wild, this place wouldn't stand a chance."

Jail guard Shawn Anderson told CBC News that he's broken up a lot of fights among inmates, adding that he has been spat on, bitten, punched and kicked.

The lack of room at the Baffin Correctional Centre has meant a limited number of programs are available for inmates, and there is no space for exercise.

Strader said justice officials are concerned about inmates' health, as the overcrowding could lead to the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis.

New jail may not be enough: official

north-bcc-beds100217

The Iqaluit jail is so crowded, its gymnasium has been converted into a makeshift dormitory. ((CBC))

The Baffin Correctional Centre is so full that more than 50 inmates have been shipped to correctional institutions outside of Nunavut, at a cost of millions of dollars a year for the territorial government.

Justice officials say they pay the neighbouring Northwest Territories almost $300 a day for each of the 30 Nunavut inmates incarcerated at the North Slave Correctional Centre in Yellowknife.

A new 48-bed jail is scheduled to open next year in Rankin Inlet, while a new jail specifically for women is also set to open soon in Iqaluit.

But Strader said the Rankin Inlet jail, which is meant to complement the Baffin Correctional Centre, will likely not ease the current crowding problem.

"With our current capacity issues with this facility, and the size that Rankin will be, Rankin won't even meet our current capacity requirements," he said.

In December, MLAs led by former justice minister Paul Okalik voted 9-8 against giving the Justice Department $300,000 to study ways to upgrade or replace the Baffin Correctional Centre.

In opposing the funding, Okalik said a community learning centre should take higher priority over a jail study, adding that the territory should focus more on preventing crime than on incarcerating people.

Strader has commissioned an independent assessment of the Baffin Correctional Centre, in the hopes of convincing politicians of the need to replace the jail as soon as possible.

With files from Jennifer Hunt