Nova Scotia·Exclusive

Waterville youth facility defends violent record

Nova Scotia's only long-term correctional facility for youth may be more violent and less secure than most people think.

Last year there were 83 violent incidents reported at youth detention centre

The Nova Scotia Youth Centre has a capacity to hold 108 inmates but last year it housed between 36 and 58 offenders at any one time. (CBC)

Nova Scotia’s only long-term correctional facility for youth may be more violent and less secure than many people think.

The Nova Scotia Youth Detention Centre in Waterville, N.S. is a place where fights are common and contraband is able to make its way into a secure facility, according to documents obtained by CBC News through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents, which cover a period from Jan. 1, 2012 until Jan. 30, 2013, show there were 34 fights and 49 assaults during that period.

Of those 49 assaults, six were attacks on staff. The rest of the violence occurred between inmates.

The facility distinguishes between a fight and an assault.
Fighting involves a physical confrontation between two people when both are aggressive and actively participating in the confrontation.
An inmate assault is when one or more people attack another person and that person being attacked does not or cannot defend themselves.
A staff assault is an attack by one of the inmates attacks a staff member and includes hitting, kicking, pushing, spitting, etc.

Last March marked the most violent month at the facility.

Staff recorded 10 assaults, including an attack against a staff member and two fights.

During the week of March 11 there was a serious violent incident every day of the week except Wednesday.

Mike Sampson, superintendent of the Waterville facility, said despite the reports, the facility is secure.

"These youth that are in the facility have the potential to be dangerous. We do our very best to maintain and stop that from happening. The amount of violence that they’ve used and the amount of incidents you’ve talked about, there is very few actual serious injuries because of the staff intervention," said Sampson.

Despite measures, contraband, drugs turn up in facility

Despite frequent searches and pat downs, inmates have found ways to bring drugs and other contraband into the youth centre.

Last year, inmates at the secure facility were caught with contraband material 17 times.

There were three incidents where inmates were caught smuggling drugs and a cell phone into the facility. There were also two incidents where inmates admitted to being high on drugs last year.

Sampson said those incidents do not constitute a "drug problem" at the facility.

"Any drugs in any facility is a problem because any drugs can affect a behaviour and make it more dangerous for the other offenders and the staff," he said.

One inmate who took drugs several times while at the Waterville facility was Melvin Skeete.

Skeete was tried as an adult, found guilty of second-degree murder for stabbing his girlfriend more than 100 times and sentenced to life in prison.

Sampson said that in addition to getting caught with drugs, Skeete came close to seriously hurting another inmate in January 2012.

He said the young man ended up on the ground and Skeete was about to "stomp" on the man’s head when a youth worker tackled him.

Paul Getson, the unit supervisor who wrote up the incident noted "staff got there in the nick of time or [the youth] could have been dead or had serious head trauma."

Although Sampson said most fights like these are broken up quickly without serious injury, this is one case that could have ended in tragedy.

He said what is reported versus what actually happens at the facility does not show a balanced perspective.

"What the public might hear about are the violent incidents that take place, the public doesn’t hear about on a daily basis the amount of positive conversations that take place between a youth worker and a young person," said Sampson.

Sampson said many young people leave the facility having learned some valuable lessons and with life skills they didn't have when they came to Waterville.

Following this story, the Justice Department compiled their own numbers and came up with those listed in the interactive content at the end of this article. The department did not dispute the numbers obtained by CBC News.

He said trouble is the centre isn't the real world and in the real world these youths don't have the kind of support they need in order to remain healthy, socially responsible people.

Sampson said many simply get sucked back into the world that sent them to Waterville in the first place.

Waterville has a capacity to hold108 inmates but last year housed between 36 and 58 offenders at any one time.


with files from the CBC's Jean Laroche