Saskatchewan

Former Regina jail inmates decry 21-hour lockup

Two former prisoners of the Regina Correctional Centre say they were confined to their cell 21 hours a day for months and even years, with very little rehabilitation, before their cases went to trial.

Extra security needed for those with gang affiliations, behavioural problems, province says

David Dustyhorn says he didn't see the sun 'for like 3½ years.' (Radio-Canada/CBC)

Two former prisoners of the Regina Correctional Centre say they were confined to their cell 21 hours a day for months and even years, with very little rehabilitation, before their cases went to trial.

One of the ex-prisoners is Forrest Pelletier, whom Radio-Canada recently spoke with as he played with his five children at a park.

While waiting for his trial at the Regina jail earlier this year, Pelletier was confined 21 hours a day to his cell — a space the size of a closet. 

During the other three other hours of the day, he could walk up and down a corridor.

"Your body starts getting lazy and you start sleeping more," he said. "It makes you think a lot of crazy things. It does a number on your mind and your body."

Forrest Pelletier says spending 21 hours a day in his cell was bad for his mind and his body. (Radio-Canada/CBC)

Another former inmate detained in the same high-security unit says he didn't get outside at all, for several years. 

"I never seen the sun for like 3½ years," said David Dustyhorn, who was on remand before being sentenced for manslaughter in the 2010 death of Raymond Gardypie. 

The same kind of confinement is imposed on all prisoners on remand, which means those waiting for a trial or sentencing.

However, most of them, who are not in high-security units like Pelletier and Dustyhorn were can go outside.

"It's certainly alarming to know these are the conditions in our Saskatchewan prisons," said Jason Demers, who studied provincial jails for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Demers says this kind of confinement can damage mental health. He's particularly concerned that it's applied to prisoners on remand.

"When you're in remand it means that you either have not gone to trial yet or haven't even had a bail hearing yet," he said.

Province says safety is a priority

However, the provincial justice ministry says privileges are limited at the unit where Pelletier and Dustyhorn were imprisoned for safety reasons.

The Regina Correctional Centre is where offenders serve sentences of less than two years. Prisoners are also remanded at the facility while awaiting court dates before they are sentenced. (Government of Saskatchewan )

Justice ministry spokesperson Drew Wilby says that security and safety of staff and offenders is the system's priority. 

"It's important to note that unit 2D1 is primarily made up of offenders with significant gang affiliations, also with behavioural issues," he said.

Last march, Pelletier organized two hunger strikes in unit 2D1.

Prison authorities have since made some changes, like providing access to a microwave oven.

An exercise area is on the way, and inmates on 2D1 may also soon have the right to some time outside. 

However, 21-hour-a-day confinement continues for all prisoners on remand.

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