A group of federal inmates is threatening legal action to halt a "recklessly ambitious" and "knee-jerk" decision to move Canada's most severely mentally ill prisoners to a temporary location pending the construction of a new permanent unit.
Prisoners and advocates say the move will unnecessarily disrupt a vulnerable population of acute-care inmates twice — and will trigger a series of long-distance moves, increased double-bunking and more placements in segregation for others being displaced by the transfer.
Ultimately, they warn, the decision will create more tension and violence in an already volatile environment that will seriously affect the security of staff, inmates and the public.
The Regional Treatment Centre in Kingston, Ont., one of three federal facilities slated for closure under a federal restructuring plan by the Correctional Service of Canada, will begin moving about 70 offenders to Collins Bay Institution this month. The placement will be temporary until construction of a new unit at Bath Institution is completed later this year.
Todd Sloan, a lawyer representing inmates at Collins Bay, said the decision is driven by cost saving, poor planning and ideology that will have negative consequences for safety and the mental state of the inmates. He has written to Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney urging him to intervene and halt the temporary move.
If he does not get a favourable response, inmates will file for an injunction, and if that fails, they will launch a class action lawsuit for damages, Sloan said. Litigation would be based on "negligence" on the part of Corrections Canada for needlessly causing more restrictive levels of confinement than necessary, he said.
"It's all well and good to say that these places shouldn't be considered country clubs, but there are certain ways that institutions should be run to ensure at least some level of humane treatment and as little tension as necessary occurs," he said. "I don't think this should be exacerbated on the basis of something that was the Correctional Service's problem in the first place."
It may seem like an inconvenience, Sloan said, but in the world of a penitentiary the consequences will be a "real and significant impairment of their rights and quality of life."
Inmates' move an 'interim measure'
Corrections Canada spokeswoman Sara Parkes confirmed the medium security offenders from RTC will be moved to Collins Bay as an "interim measure" to meet target deadlines until the new unit is ready. Other maximum-security inmates will be moved to Millhaven Institution in nearby Bath, Ont.
"Procedures are being implemented to meet the physical and mental health needs of the population without negatively impacting the routine at CBI," she said. "All CSC facilities are staffed according to established policy and procedures and all inmates who have been transferred will be afforded services as required by their correctional plan."
Ensuring the safety and security of the public, institutions, staff and the inmates remain the Correctional Service's "top priority," Parkes added.
But Jarrod Shook of the Collins Bay Inmate Committee called it a "recklessly ambitious plan" and predicted the "ad hoc" decision will have widespread adverse effects on a strained system already buckling under pressures from crowding and violence.
"Collins Bay is now being forced to react by coming up with a knee-jerk policy to revise their current accommodation scheme, which will invariably displace, disturb and disrupt the prisoners already incarcerated in the 96-bed living unit which is slated to become the provisional RTC," he wrote in a letter to Corrections Canada obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics. "We are unable to comprehend how this plan is tenable given its implications."
Repercussions on the health, safety and security of those in this institution run contrary to the Correctional Service’s responsibility to provide reasonable, safe, secure and humane custody, he said. It jeopardize the well-being of those working and held in Collins Bay — and ultimately the safety of the public, Shook said.
"On the exterior this may seem like nothing more than a minor upsetting of the status quo; however the consequences are far graver than that," Shook said.
"The capacity issue will invariably result in an increase of double-bunking to the 20 per cent mark compounded by the demands of readjusting the displaced prisoners to an unfamiliar living environment which would have more often occurred in much smaller numbers and gradually."
Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said the inmates will get the same standard of care.
"While the primary focus of government are the victims of crime, we can assure you that the offenders will continue to be incarcerated in the same level of security that they are now and that those who require medical or mental health treatment will continue to receive it," he told Power & Politics.