Inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre say the new $70-million jail has lots of problems.
They say the heating doesn’t work, the lights don’t turn off, the toilets keep backing up, the automatic locks don’t work and the daily schedule – including the times when they receive their medications – is out of whack.
Some parts of the building are also still under construction, said a handful of inmates who contacted the News this week.
“The new jail is worse than the old jail, in my eyes at least, ” said inmate Steven Wolfe.
Bob Riches, assistant deputy minister of community justice and public safety and the official who decided the inmates would move to the new building last week, said some of these claims are true.
“Nobody knew but me, for security reasons mainly,” said Riches about when the move would take place.
“I wasn’t compelled by anybody. I pulled the trigger for the move when I was confident that all the life-safety issues in the building were resolved. I knew there would be little things because I’ve opened jails before.
“I knew there would be minor issues with systems. That would happen if we opened it three months from now because it’s a brand new building.
“At the end of the day, I made the best decision I could, considering the risk. And it’s on me. I’m the guy that made that decision.”
Although Riches hadn’t heard about any power problems, he said there are “minor issues with systems,” including the heat.
The contractor is now rebalancing the heating system, he said. Inmates who are cold have been offered extra sweaters and blankets.
One inmate’s claim that a group of four others were dragged off to “the hole” or segregation after requesting more blankets is false, said Riches.
However, four inmates were taken, without force, to segregation on March 16 for “attempting to incite a disturbance,” he said.
As for the locks, he said the guards are unlocking each cell individually for safety reasons.
But the automatic button to unlock them all, in case of a fire, for example, is working, he said.
Some of the toilets have been backing up, he said.
A new system was installed in the toilets, which includes a large hook to catch any oversized material, like clothes, he said. If the hooks catch something, the water begins to back up behind it, resulting in overflow.
In both cases of plugged toilets brought to his attention, the inmates admitted putting paper towels down the toilet after using them to clean their cells.
For security reasons, the lights in the living quarters will never be turned off completely, only dimmed, he said.
And the building’s construction is now completely finished and accessible, he said.
There was a delay in accessing the visiting rooms “because of internal processes.”
The Healing Room, where inmates can go for spiritual programming, also took a few extra days to open while high-security glass was put in to replace what was there, he said.
Finally, the schedule, including that for doling out medication, has not changed but the procedure has, he said.
Instead of taking a cart around to each dorm, the inmates are now released from one unit at a time to go to the medical kiosk where nurses dispense medicines and answer questions.
This takes longer than the old system because it depends on how many inmates need to see the nurse and for how long, said Riches.
Starting three years ago, the jail guards have been training to run and operate the new building, he said.
“We brought in experts to train staff on running this building and have trained them fully to respond to any emergency,” he said. “We are confident that all of staff were well prepared.”
The decision to move was prompted by the overcrowded and stressful situation at the old jail, said Riches.
“The inmates were housed in a building that was initially meant to house 36 inmates,” he said, adding that the new building was 99 per cent ready, and the staff 100 per cent prepared.
“We looked at the risk and decided it was safer for the inmates and staff to move now,” he said.
Still, inmates feel their concerns are getting brushed aside just like they were in the old facility, said inmate Norman Larue.
“We can’t call Elizabeth Fry because we’re told each time that it’s only for women and there is no John Howard Society in the Yukon,” he said. “No one from upper management will talk to inmates. The only option is ISO.”
The Inspections and Standards Office is the inmates’ complaints office.
But Larue said no matter what the complaint, the response is always the same –
they have spoken with administrators and are satisfied with their explanation.
All complaints are thoroughly investigated, said Riches.
“In not every case is the complaint valid,” he said. “And sometimes the answer ‘no’ isn’t acceptable to people. I guess not everybody is satisfied with the answer they get in the end.”
Any complaints made in the old facility that still need to be addressed have been carried over, Riches added.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at