ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador is replacing its crumbling, Victorian-era jail in St. John’s, but observers say the facility isn’t fit to house people in the meantime.
Cindy Murphy of the local John Howard Society says government needs a plan to address the harsh conditions at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary for the next few years until a new facility is constructed.
Emails obtained through access to information legislation show that inmates staged a protest at the facility in June, refusing to go back to their sweltering cells.
Fred Cumby, the jail’s assistant superintendent, emailed the government the day after the protest to say that if something isn’t done about the heat, “somebody is going to get hurt or worse.”
Emails from July show that temperatures in some parts of the facility reached humidex values up to 36.
Halifax-based lawyer Mike Dull said in an interview that forcing inmates to endure days or weeks at temperatures that high could arguably constitute a violation of their Charter rights.
“There’s much lesser conditions that have been found to amount to cruel and unusual punishment,” said Dull, who is involved in a class-action lawsuit against the Newfoundland and Labrador government about the use of solitary confinement at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
Dull said the people he’s spoken to for that lawsuit have described “really horrific” and “demeaning” conditions at the facility, including unbearable temperatures in both winter and summer.
The oldest part of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was built in 1859, and the facility is among the oldest operating jails in the country. The provincial Department of Justice says construction on a new facility is expected to begin next spring.
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