Nova Scotia

Judge upholds lockdown conditions at Burnside jail

An inmate at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre has failed in his bid to get restrictions on his custody lifted.

Staff members testified restrictions were tied to threats made by inmates

Cells are seen during a media tour of renovations at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax on May 15. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

An inmate at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre, better known as the Burnside jail, has failed in his bid to get restrictions on his custody lifted.

But the decision released Friday by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in the case of Maurice Pratt offers a glimpse of conditions inside Nova Scotia's largest jail located in Dartmouth, N.S.

Pratt is in Burnside awaiting trial on two charges of assaulting a peace officer. He's also accused of assaulting a jail guard and uttering death threats.

He is housed in the North 3 wing of the jail. It has been on lockdown since early September.

Inmates were unable to leave cells for more than a day

The lockdown means inmates there are only allowed out of their cells for one hour per day. Over a 24-to-36 hour period beginning on Sept. 9, the lockdown became even more restrictive, with inmates unable to leave their cells at all.

Eight inmates filed a legal action meant to get a court to force the jail to loosen the restrictions.

The other inmates were represented by lawyers who asked for more time to prepare their cases. Pratt, who was representing himself, opted to push ahead.

He listed nine reasons for his application, including "mere allegations" of threats and the claim that he and other inmates do not get out in the yard every day.

Jail staff members refute arguments

A government lawyer called two staff members from the jail to rebut Pratt's arguments.

They testified about death threats that have been made against staff by inmates in the North 3 unit. The officers testified they could not determine who was making the threats because they were shouted by inmates who were being held in their cells.

Burnside was one of several prisons and jails in North America that were the sites of peaceful protests by inmates in September.

The protests were to end on Sept. 9. The officers testifying at Pratt's hearing said they heard one inmate say that when the protest ended "then someone is going to die."

'I'm going to snap your neck'

In his decision, Justice James Chipman wrote that on Sept. 9, "an inmate was heard yelling at an officer, 'I am going to kill you' and 'I am going to grab your skinny neck.'"

Chipman noted that, "Several minutes later an inmate was heard yelling, 'I'm going to snap your neck.'"

​Chipman wrote that the testimony from the prison officers was credible and their evidence justified the restrictive measures staff had taken with inmates in the unit.

In concluding his decision, the judge noted that things have improved at the jail since the severe restrictions of early September.

He noted: "I can only express the Court's sincere hope that the rotational schedule will return to normal, which for all concerned will be a positive move."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia