Jail inspects itself

A call to the Whitehorse jail to speak to a corrections inspector met with silence. Though called for in law, there currently are no inspectors in…

A call to the Whitehorse jail to speak to a corrections inspector met with silence.

Though called for in law, there currently are no inspectors in the Yukon.

Eventually, the call was patched through to the head of security — a position the inspector would oversee.

Appointed by the minister, inspectors “may, at any time, enter a correctional institution, and shall have access to every part thereof and to every person confined therein,” according to section 22 (1) of the Yukon Corrections Act.

Independent of government, they have access to all paperwork and records, can investigate the conduct of employees, as well as inmates, and write up reports for the minister.

“I wasn’t beholden to anybody or anything,” former Yukon corrections inspector Father David Daws said from Abbotsford on Thursday.

“If an incident happened, you went in there totally objectively — you could look at anything you wanted to, you could talk to anybody.”

“We haven’t had (inspectors) in quite awhile,” said Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

“Things fall down by the wayside if (the act) is not looked at,” he said. And the Corrections Act hasn’t been reviewed since 1973.

“I’m not sure why this lapsed,” he said.

There’s currently no independent oversight at the jail, said Cable.

“It’s a shame they don’t have it, I really think it is important,” said Daws, who was an inspector from 1988 to 1996.

“There used to be three or four of us.”

Daws would get called in by inmates complaining about treatment from guards, and by guards complaining about inmates.

“You could go and talk to people, and come to a conclusion,” he said.

There were also times guards felt they maybe weren’t being supported as well as they should have been “and you went in and talked about these incidents,” he said.

“There’s a lot of things that probably should be out being talked about, even if it’s not pertinent to the public, there’s a lot of things that should be looked at and evaluations made.”

Daws, who also acted as the jail’s chaplain, loved his job.

“You were not a puppeteer or a puppet, so you could listen to both sides and felt free to make a decision,” he said.

“I went in whenever I wanted and they were always good about it.”

Now, the ombudsman hears complaints from inmates.

But it’s not the same role, said Daws.

“The ombudsman doesn’t have the access I did.”

On one of his checks, Daws noticed a young inmate with FASD locked in the same cell as a convicted sex offender.

“I said, ‘Hold the phone, that’s foolish,’ and went and talked to the guards.”

Half an hour later the young guy was moved.

“As soon as I mentioned it, it changed,” said Daws. “And they weren’t changing it for the inspector, I just brought it to their attention.”

There should still be inspectors, he added.

Daws was probably one of the last, said Cable, who talked with coworkers who have been there since 1998. They don’t remember inspectors.

“But there is oversight,” he said.

“Obviously the staff and employees have oversight from their directors, and obviously there’s a responsible chain of command within the correctional centre and that includes all things to do with health and safety, or standards or service delivery for correctional purposes.

“There just isn’t arm’s-length oversight.”

The new corrections act, awaiting government approval, will have that, added Cable.

“There’s a new position, we’re advertising for it now, the director of inspections and standards.”

There are a lot of changes coming to that correctional centre, he said.

Besides the new inspector, there will also be a citizens’ advisory committee that will look at all aspects of service delivery at the jail and report on it.

“But it takes a long time to make this kind of change, it’s like a whole cultural change,” said Cable.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com