Re-thinking Prison Designs


Two years before it opened, the official buzz around Edmonton's new Remand Centre was all about safety. But in that time, no one has convinced the guards. What began as the suspension of two guards over safety complaints has swept pivotal workers in the Alberta justice system into a labour dispute. The province has retaliated with court action, a judge is now imposing fines and a futuristic prison design known as 'direct supervision' is taking its place in the awkward history of Incarceration Innovation.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Guy Smith

"It's the first remand centre in the province to use a direct supervision model to reduce incidents among inmates and between inmates and staff, making for a more harmonious, safe and working custody environment." - Alberta's Justice Minister Jonathan Denis

Alberta's Justice Minister didn't want to make the new Remand Centre in Edmonton sound too good during a tour last month. Even still, there's not much harmony today.

Alberta's prison guards are on a wildcat strike, just two weeks after inmates began to fill the centre's hallways and cellblocks. And late last night, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees was fined $100, 000 after a judge found it in civil contempt of court for ignoring a back-to-work order on Saturday for striking correctional officers. The fine will grow the longer they stay out.

The guards were joined in solidarity by correctional officers from other cities and provinces. Alberta's sheriffs, court officers and some social workers are also striking in support. The labour board ordered them to cease and desist but earlier in the day they were defiant.

Guy Smith is the President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees representing the correctional officers on strike. He he joined us from Edmonton.

We reached out to Alberta's Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, and to the Ministry of Justice . No one was available to comment.

Academy of Architects for Justice, Julia Hughes

Despite the concerns of the Alberta's guards, proponents of direct supervision prisons believe it's the future of incarceration. Julia Hughes designs direct supervision prisons such as the one in Edmonton. She is the chair of the Sustainable Justice Committee at the Academy of Architects for Justice. We reached Julia Hughes in San Diego, California.

Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility, Raphael Sperry

Societies argue over how to balance punishment, public safety and retribution, and the direct supervision model is the latest attempt at building a better prison.

For more on how we got here, and what history can teach us, we were joined by Raphael Sperry. He is an architect and visiting fellow at UC Berkeley. And he is the president of the non-profit group Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility. He joined us now from San Francisco.

This segment was produced by The Current's Jess deMello, Sujata Berry and Idella Sturino.

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Other segments from today's show:

The Intra-Company Transfer & Temporary Foreign Workers

Qais Akbar Omar: 'A Fort of Nine Towers'

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