Justice dept. blames 'misunderstandings' for Yellowknife inmate complaints

After reading 70 individual letters from an inmate writing campaign, the N.W.T.'s Justice Department has concluded there have been clear 'misunderstandings' about programs at the North Slave Correctional Complex.

'It is clear there have been misunderstandings regarding recent program modifications at NSCC'

The North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The N.W.T.'s Justice Department concluded there have been clear "misunderstandings" about programs at the North Slave Correctional Complex, after reading 70 individual letters sent from inmates last month.

Dozens of inmates took part in the letter writing campaign to tell MLAs and Justice Minister Lou Sebert about the diminishing programs and resources at the jail. This includes a lack of educational, career-training, cultural and recreational opportunities, which was made even worse by the closure of an outside yard more than a year ago. 

One of more than two dozen letters written by prisoners of Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Complex asking for improved education opportunities and living conditions. This letter was addressed to Tom Beaulieu, MLA for the constituency of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Each letter was read by a member of the NSCC's management team, the warden met with the general inmate population and the warden and deputy wardens held meetings with smaller groups of inmates. It was then concluded that these complaints came down to misinformation.

"Based on the concerns raised in the letters, and the followup discussions with the inmates about these concerns, it is clear there have been misunderstandings regarding recent program modifications at NSCC," said Kim Schofield, the assistant deputy minister (solicitor general) for the Department of Justice, in an email.

Schofield said that from now on they need to make sure the inmate advisory committee consistently receives the correct information and that that information gets repeated often, especially because the average time an inmate spends at the NSCC is just under 90 days.

Going forward, program information will routinely be included at meetings with the inmate advisory committee.

She added that inmates should go to case managers and corrections officers to find out any information, as opposed to other inmates.

But Schofield admitted that not all the issues raised can be addressed.

"Some of the issues raised in the letters logistically are not possible considering the average number of days an inmate is in the facility," the email said.

"The request to allow smoking back into the facility will not be considered for either inmates or staff as it is clearly a health concern for everyone." 

Response to MLAs

Sebert would not comment on the review of the letters, saying it's an operational issue, but he did release a response to MLAs, which was posted on the Justice department's website.

In the response, Sebert detailed the main themes in the letters, which included: traditional programming and access to an outdoor recreation area, cost of long distance telephone communication, program reductions, and the inmate complaint process — and then offered a response to each issue.

Sebert maintains that programs and services at the NSCC have not been cut "and in fact there are more programs offered in N.W.T. correctional facilities than there have been in past years."

The response also says the letters have made it clear that the communication efforts around these programs needs to be improved.

As for what can be expected in the future, Schofield said: "Corrections officers and staff will continue to work with inmates to provide the best programming possible to address the root causes that caused their incarceration and to prepare them for their reintegration into their community."


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