Hunger strike again at Regina Correctional Centre

Sixteen inmates began refusing to eat Thursday, over issues ranging from long hours being locked in their cells to spiralling prices in their canteen.

High security inmates frustrated by lack of progress on unresolved issues

The Regina Correctional Centre is once again the scene of a hunger strike by inmates. (Government of Saskatchewan )

Another hunger strike is underway at the Regina Correctional Centre.

On Wednesday, 16 members of the high security unit 2D1 served notice, and as of late Thursday afternoon had refused both their breakfast and lunch trays.

One of the inmates refusing to eat, Forrest Pelletier, said they want to be let out of their cells for longer than the three hours per day they are currently allowed.

"We're tired of being locked up 21 hours a day," Pelletier said. "You know it's like we're in a super-max correctional facility, and it's like we're guilty until proven innocent. You know a lot of us never had our day in court."

He said the inmates are on remand, meaning their cases are still working their way through the courts.

History of hunger strikes on unit

Unit 2D1 houses suspected gang members and inmates with behaviour issues, explained Drew Wilby, executive director of corporate affairs with the Ministry of Justice.

Pelletier complained inmates there are not given "our proper reviews" to determine if they should remain in the unit, saying "once you come to this unit you're stuck here until you get out (of jail) or go to the (penitentiary)."

This is not Pelletier's first time on the unit. A year ago he led a hunger strike, which led to inmates being allowed to smudge, an aboriginal spiritual ritual. They are now pressing to be allowed to take part in sweat ceremonies as well.

Pelletier returned to the correctional centre in November, this time charged with break and enter. He also faces organized crime charges.

Exercise space among concerns

He said the inmates also want more space for exercise. He estimated the size of their current yard is 20 feet by 10 feet, and compared it to a "dog kennel." Pelletier said the inmates are allowed there only one day per week, for three one-hour periods. The other days when they leave their cells they are only allowed onto their range, which he described as a "hallway."

And, they are demanding 60 TV channels and a movie channel, instead of the 12 channels they get now. Pelletier said the change would bring what they have in line with the TV channels available in penitentiaries.

Pelletier said the inmates are also upset over price increases at their canteen, where the food services contractor Compass has taken over operations. An an example, he said the price of pepperoni sticks has more than tripled.

Complaints about the quality of the meals provided by Compass triggered a hunger strike in December.

A tray refusal just isn't an appropriate way of putting these concerns forward- Drew Wilby, Ministry of Justice

However, Wilby said there will be no negotiations until the inmates start eating again, adding "the demand for more TV stations is simply off, the Ministry's not interested in entertaining that", and that an expanded yard would be a "significant expense." The yard for that unit was added about a year and a half ago.

Wilby also said "a tray refusal just isn't an appropriate way of putting these concerns forward," explaining the inmates have a committee to raise issues and concerns.

But Pelletier said last December officials promised to look into giving inmates more time out of their cells, and "they just keep sloughing us off."

He said a review that was supposed to take place in January was put off to February, and still hasn't happened.

Pelletier said the tray refusal will continue indefinitely.

Wilby said the inmates' medical conditions will be monitored, adding "we hope that this doesn't last long."