Former inmates rally at HMP to protest 'most unfit and inhumane prison in Canada'
Justice minister says prison replacement is 'number one priority' for his department
Former inmates of Her Majesty's Penitentiary and allies worried about those currently serving time gathered outside the aging St. John's jail Thursday morning to protest the conditions and lack of supports inside its walls.
Mike Williams, a former inmate who has been vocal on social media and helped plan the protest, was joined by a handful of people.
"That is hell in there, that is torture," said Williams, standing on the sidewalk pointing to the prison's front doors.
Williams said he has spent more than 20 years in prisons across the country, including Dorchester Penitentiary, Saskatchewan Penitentiary and Atlantic Institution.
He said none compares to the conditions inside HMP.
"This is the [most] dangerous prison, most unfit and inhumane prison in Canada," Williams said.
Along with protesting the conditions inside the prison, Williams said he wants the government to better train staff on addiction rehabilitation.
He said addicts are ending up in prison and are not getting the treatment they need. once they are released they fall back into the same cycle, he added.
"I know that we committed crimes. I am ashamed of that … but they're crying out for help."
Other signs at the protest indicated support for correctional workers, with written messages like "Let's help HMP staff," and "Better working conditions and more protection for their safety."
HMP is the largest jail in Newfoundland and Labrador and sits on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake in downtown St. John's.
The penitentiary has been plagued with problems for years, both structurally and in terms of issues inside the jail.
HMP is the oldest operating correctional facility in Canada, with parts originally built the same year Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species and Charles Dickens released A Tale of Two Cities.
HMP replacement is 'No. 1 priority': justice minister
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told reporters at the House of Assembly on Thursday afternoon that Williams did not ask to speak with him.
"Over the last three years, I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people inside and outside that facility. I'm down there quite regularly.… I haven't turned down a request [to speak] yet," said Parsons.
He insisted a replacement for HMP remains high on the agenda.
"It's our No. 1 priority within our department and it's something I've been making a case for with my colleagues," Parsons said.
He said he will be making announcements related to corrections in N.L. very soon, but wouldn't elaborate.
With files from Meg Roberts and Katie Breen