The Current

Prison violence won't stop until overcrowding addressed, says former inmate

Prison violence is on the rise across Canada. And a recent prison riot in Saskatchewan that left one man dead is proof of that. The Current speaks to a former inmate for insights on how to fix a broken system.
At the federal level, inmate-on-inmate assaults have risen by 93 per cent in the past decade. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

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For many familiar with this country's correctional facilities, news of prison riots is not surprising. For years across Canada, violence in prisons has been steadily rising.

Lee Chapelle has 100 convictions on his record — all of them property-related and non-violent in nature. He's spent 21 years in prison and tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay that overcrowding plays a huge role in prison violence.
Jason Leonard Bird, 43, died at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. (Holly Lynn/Facebook)

"Double bunking and triple bunking is absolutely a catalyst for violence," says Chapelle, who is the president of Canadian Prison Consulting an organization that helps inmates prepare for life on the inside after they're convicted and for life on the outside after they're paroled.

"Just imagine 50 or 60 men or women living in a very small area, sharing everything from toilets to food and all the domestic issues that could arise from that," Chapelle explains.

He tells Chattopadhay that one example of violence involved one inmate dying over mistakenly using a cell mate's toothbrush.

"When it's overcrowded it's just exasperating," says Chapelle.

He suggests "public safety should come to the forefront," to make Canada's prison system work better for the people that are incarcerated inside them.

"If they are not violent, scary people and don't have a long history, let's look at alternative sentencing - restorative," Chapelle says.

"I think we really need to restore our belief in the potential of rehabilitation."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

​This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman, Julian Uzielli and Kristin Nelson.

Statement from the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

The Current did request an interview with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale. He was not available but his office sent us a statement, which reads:

"Correctional works face challenging situations every day managing the lives of the lives of the 15,000 offenders in their custody across the country. Changes in the offender population have intensified these challenges.

The government is reviewing the changes made to our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade to assess the merit of those changes. We will ensure that they are increasing the safety of our communities and that they are aligned with smart public policy objectives.

We want to see more emphasis on restorative justice and we want to reduce the overuse of administrative segregation and prevent tragedies like the one that befell Ashley Smith.

We are committed to addressing gaps in services to Indigenous peoples and those with mental illnesses throughout our criminal justice system.

We will ensure that we not only have the tools to hold guilty parties to account for illegal behaviour, but also to create an environment that fosters effective rehabilitation and reintegration so that we have fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims, and ultimately, safer communities."