New Brunswick

Weekend prisoners doubled up in 310 cases in Saint John and Dalhousie

A document obtained by CBC shows 310 cases where inmates serving weekend sentences were double-bunked at the Saint John and Dalhousie jails over an 18-month period ending in June.

'Cost-cutting' measure is stressful for staff and inmates, says guards union

Inmates serving weekend sentences were double-bunked at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre while a unit with several empty cells remained vacant. (CBC)

A document obtained by CBC News shows hundreds of cases of prisoners serving weekend sentences being double-bunked at jails in Saint John and Dalhousie.

The docoument obtained through a right-to-information request covers an 18-month period ending in June.

At the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre, there were 187 cases of two individuals sharing a one-person cell.

At the Dalhousie Centre, there were 123 cases at the Dalhousie Centre.

2nd mattress brought in

In 24 of the Saint John cases, men were double-bunked in a unit normally used for solitary confinement, the record shows.

Double-bunking involves squeezing a second mattress into a cell designed for one person. A case of double bunking refers to two prisoners sharing a cell on a Saturday night.

CUPE representative Mike Davidson says the Department of Justice and Public Safety's practice of double-bunking is a 'cost-cutting' measure and a hazard for staff and prisoners. (CBC)

CUPE, the union representing the province's correctional officers, describes the practice as a safety issue that is stressful to both inmates and staff and says it can lead to violence. The cited an incident several years ago in which a prisoner suffered a brain injury.

In a statement, an unnamed spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety suggested double-bunking is done in cases of "over capacity" to avoid transferring offenders to other parts of the province where there are vacant cells.

Can't be moved

"In many instances access to legal representation or family and supports may impair our ability to unilaterally transfer an inmate to a different facility," says the writer.

The statement said intermittent, short-term offenders must be kept separate from the general jail population to reduce intimidation and the transportation of drugs or weapons to the larger inmate population.

They just double-bunk them instead of calling in extra officers.- Mike Davidson, CUPE

The province has refused requests from CBC for statistics on units of cells left vacant at the two jails while offenders were being double-bunked. 

But national CUPE representative Mike Davidson said it is well-known that vacant units are available for intermittent offenders — each with several empty cells — at both the Dalhousie and Saint John jails.

"They can put them in those units and secure the units," Davidson said. "They're segregated from the rest of the institution

"They just double-bunk them instead of calling in extra officers." 

The document refers to the 310 cases as 310 "involved offenders," but Davidson claims that only the extra prisoner in a cell has been counted. Since double-bunking affects each of the two prisoners being double-bunked, not just one, the actual total could be twice what is reported, he said.

Not common elsewhere

Double-bunking is not employed as much at the province's other jails.

The document from the department shows there were 37 cases where individuals were doubled up at the Southeast Region Correctional Centre in Shediac and a single case at the Madawaska Correctional Centre in  Saint-Hilaire.

No cases were reported at the New Brunswick Women's Correctional Centre in Miramichi.

The statement from the department said a jail is not considered to be "over capacity" in cases where offenders are doubled up in single-person cells, except when the facility has more inmates than beds.