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Date Posted: 11:39:48 03/14/09 Sat
Brazen escape from Regina Jail shouldn't have happened: report
Last Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 6:21 PM CT Comments45Recommend33
A heavily censored report on a brazen escape by six inmates of the Regina Jail in August 2008 says it wouldn't have happened if the managers and staff were doing a better job.
The report, released Thursday, said that it is possible to deceive corrections staff from time to time, but the nature of the August escape revealed serious operational concerns.
"The EIT [External Investigations Team] … cannot accept that an entire corridor of inmates can deceive at least 87 different Corrections Workers between April 24 and Aug. 24, 2008, and engineer an escape of this magnitude," the report said.
A hole in a wall reveals how inmates scraped their way out of the Regina Jail in August 2008. A hole in a wall reveals how inmates scraped their way out of the Regina Jail in August 2008. (Report of External Investigation Team)The report revealed that in April, inmates from Unit 3A of the remand section of the Regina Jail began assembling tools for their escape, including saw blades, a steel fork and other bits of metal suitable for digging.
Over the next four months, inmates proceeded to scrape away at the mortar between bricks in an exterior wall to the unit. The work was out of viewing range of a video camera and also camouflaged by a well-positioned table where other inmates would play cards, thus blocking the view of guards looking into the area.
"Idle hands are the Devil's tools," the review said after observing that inmates in the remand section had nothing to do while they awaited their court matters to proceed.
"When people have large blocks of time on their hands with nothing constructive to do, they tend to gravitate towards doing whatever they can get away with," the report continued. "In this instance, it was digging their way out of the facility."
While large sections of the report were blacked-out, it did provide some details on the day of the escape, Aug. 24, 2008, a Sunday.
Protected against razor wire
Around 8:30 p.m., a prison guard did a cell check. Five minutes later, the inmates finished their work on the exterior wall by smashing through the weakened bricks. They crawled out to a ledge about three metres above the ground.
Then, using ropes braided from blankets and bed sheets, the six escapees scaled the various walls and fencing that stood between them and freedom. To protect themselves against razor wire the inmates wore heavy winter coats.
Staff in the jail were not aware of what happened for 65 minutes.
Police released these photographs of five men who escaped from the Regina Jail on Aug. 24, 2008. A sixth escapee was recaptured the same night.Police released these photographs of five men who escaped from the Regina Jail on Aug. 24, 2008. A sixth escapee was recaptured the same night. (RCMP)Ultimately, six escapees were on the loose for varying amounts of time. One was recaptured within three hours of the break-out. The rest were at large for between five and 30 days.
The report said the initial response was "uncontrolled and confused." It made several recommendations for improvements in that area.
The report was also very critical about the work atmosphere at the jail, concluding that poor relations between staff and management contributed to a culture where staff paid little heed to intelligence garnered from inmates about a potential escape in the makings.
The report described the relationship between managers and workers as "abysmal, to say the least."
"It's not my job to talk to inmates," one corrections worker is quoted as telling the report authors.
'We look, but we don't see'
The report says guards in fact should be actively engaged with inmates, instead of relying on security cameras.
Another worker was quoted in the report as saying, "We look, but we don't see."
A more senior corrections official offered this comment to investigators: "Whether you do a good job or bad job, your paycheque still gets deposited."
The report listed 23 recommendations for improved policies and training, as well as performance reviews for all staff.
One of the inmates who escaped was also quoted by the report authors.
"We didn't think we would get away with it," the unidentified inmate said. "It was something to do, and we just kept at it. When we didn't get caught, we picked our night and just went. We were surprised we got away with it."
The provincial government also released a detailed response to the report findings, saying it accepted all the recommendations and would act on them.
The government promised it would build a new, $87 million remand centre for Saskatoon. It also planned to make "a significant investment" in staff training.
Union defends members
While the report identified failings of managers and staff, the authors said that the union representing corrections workers in the jail "contributed to an environment of low morale, fear, and complacency."
In response, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union issued a news release on Thursday defending its members.
"The allegation is that management [at the jail] is hampered by the union," Bob Bymoen, president of the SGEU, is quoted as saying in the release. "But as everyone involved in industrial relations knows, management has a right to manage."
Bymoen said union members were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances, which they had been complaining about for years.
"We are paying for the cuts in programming and infrastructure made in the 1990s," Bymoen said.
The union statement welcomed the government's intentions to increase spending on corrections.
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