Some Edmonton Remand Centre inmates locked up more than 20 hours a day, government says

Some inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre (ERC) are being locked up for all but three and a half hours a day, according to the provincial government.

Inmates say there's little to do to pass the time, experts say that puts people at risk

Government officials say inmates are out of their cells between three and a half to 11 hours a day, depending on the inmate. (CBC)

Some inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre are being locked up for all but three and a half hours a day, according to the provincial government.

Inmate Adrian Barnes is one of them, and said people get frustrated and bored while locked up in their cells.

"When they come out of their cells, they're angry," Barnes said. "You get people upset about that and it becomes a hostile environment."

Experts said that can cause problems. Doug King, a justice studies professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said inmates need to be kept busy.  

"It's a well-known argument that if you minimize what people in custody can do with their time, you actually lay conditions for negative consequences that can flow from that," he said. 

"There's internal violence, putting guards at risk, putting other people incarcerated at risk, and nurses and doctors who work in there are at risk."

Earlier in January, inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre protested against alleged abuse at the hands of correctional officers. (CBC)

Both correctional officers and inmates have raised concerns about tension in the prison over the last month.

Guards staged a lockdown in December after they suffered frequent attacks from the centre's inmates.

As a result of the concerns, the government decided to bring in "an existing 'tiering' program."

The tiering program is a rotation that lets inmates out in groups, with the number of inmates in each group, and the time they're released from their cells, staggered throughout the day.

The province confirmed in a statement that the amount of time an inmate is out of their cell can range from three and a half to 11 hours a day.

"Time spent outside of cells is based on several factors, such as security level of the unit and inmate behaviour," the statement said.

Earlier this month, inmates staged a hunger strike to protest their treatment at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

The province said inmates wanted more time out of their cells, but three inmates told CBC News they were protesting because of alleged brutality at the hands of guards.

Inmates want more books, educational courses

A few weeks after the hunger strike, tensions remain high at the centre, said inmate Luqman Osman.

Inmates want access to more books and more educational classes, he said.

Giving us more things to be productive and to follow educational pursuits would prepare us, socialize us and allow us to come out back into society and function.- Adrian Barnes, inmate

Barnes agreed, and said many inmates would benefit from the additional resources.

"Giving us more television, giving us TVs in our cells, giving us more things to be productive and to follow educational pursuits would prepare us, socialize us and allow us to come out back into society and function," he said.

The Edmonton Remand Centre has several amenities for inmates, including 41 fresh air spaces, 60 TVs, in-cell radios and boot camp fitness classes offered to some prisoners, said a government spokesperson. Indigenous programming and library programs are also available.

The government also recently started circulating 16 tablets in the Edmonton Remand Centre for inmates as part of a pilot project.

King said he recognizes that many people are opposed to giving inmates more access to certain resources. But he said it's important to remember that many of the inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre haven't been convicted yet, and are still entitled to certain freedoms.

"They're still innocent until proven guilty," he said. "I think we need to understand that we shouldn't begin the punishment phase until they have been found guilty of an offence."