Inmate attempts escape through ceiling

A man in the segregation unit of Whitehorse Correctional Centre made a failed attempt to escape by climbing up to the ceiling through an electrical shaft on Wednesday evening.

A man in the segregation unit of Whitehorse Correctional Centre made a failed attempt to escape by climbing up to the ceiling through an electrical shaft on Wednesday evening. After more than three hours, he was talked down by prison staff.

The inmate ripped a phone from the wall of the common area of the segregation unit during his allotted exercise time at around 4:30 p.m., said Tricia Ratel, director of corrections. He used the phone to smash at the room’s cameras, doors and shatter-proof windows.

“He had himself a little damage-fest up there,” she said.

The inmate then used the phone to break the lock on a closet-sized door of an electrical shaft and climbed towards the pipes and plumbing duct of the ceiling directly above his unit.

Corrections officers discharged a flash-bang grenade “to startle him,” intending to apprehend him, said Shari-Lynn MacLellan, a justice spokesperson. At that point, he already made his way up the shaft.

The prison went on “lockdown” mode, with all inmates sent to their personal cells with their doors locked, she said. One unit’s inmates were allowed in the common area because smoke from the flash-bang seeped in and the staff did not want them affected.

Only one other inmate was in the segregation unit’s common area, where the inmate was smashing things. “That person was removed so that they were out of harm’s way,” MacLellan said.

A correctional officer talked him out of the ceiling around 8 p.m. “They sort of made a plan for what happened and that he would be returned to his cell, so it went without incident,” she said.

“He was a lot calmer when he came back down,” she added. No one was hurt, but the inmate had a few scrapes from his climb, MacLellan said.

The inmate would not have been able to escape from the ceiling, said Ratel. “He was in a jail within the jail,” she said. Although he was damaging property, the inmate wasn’t hurting anybody nor himself, so correctional officers were able to plan their approach.

“He never made it outside, not even close,” Ratel added.

Still, during the incident, RCMP sent 10 officers to form a perimeter outside the prison.

The inmate’s identify and sentence are not being released. Nor would officials say how long the inmate had been in segregation.

Officials have since reviewed the incident to “make sure things went as smoothly as possible,” said MacLellan.

“One of the things we’ll be doing is putting sturdier locks in,” Ratel said.

The new jail, which cost $70 million to build, consists of three living units for men, one for women and one segregation unit that currently holds two men in separate cells.

It replaced an older jail, which was built in 1967. Inmates were moved into the prison in March 2012.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at krystlea@yukon-news.com

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