"You’re going to get shit-bombed. It’s going to happen"

Hellish conditions inside Burnside prison.

A snow-covered Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside. - COREY MOORE
Corey Moore
A snow-covered Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside.

First, fill up a juice box with urine and fecal matter. Then place it next to the small crack at the bottom of a cell’s door. Stomp on it as hard as you can. The offending slosh will spray out through the crack, covering the cell’s occupant (and everything else) in piss and shit.

It’s just one variant of “shit-bombing,” one of many traumas inmates at the Central Nova Correctional Facility endure in a prison environment both guards and inmates call out of control.

“The offenders run the show,” says one provincial guard about the Burnside penitentiary. “We have a lot of scared staff in that facility. It’s severely understaffed as well.”

According to the Chronicle Herald three guards at the Burnside jail have been sent to hospital in the last five days. Police have been called to the prison 17 times in the last week. The number of assaults at Burnside nearly doubled last year compared to the same period in 2013. Incident reports released through a freedom of information request to the Canadian Press detailed “shit-bombings,” guards being spat on, brawls and the use of handmade weapons. The story stated there were 70 assaults between offenders and more than 30 assaults on staff in the first six months of 2014.

“I think Burnside’s a joke, compared to most other jails,” says Drew Butler, who’s spent the last six years in provincial and federal prisons throughout the Maritimes. The Coast interviewed him for yesterday’s cover feature on solitary confinement.

“It’s just run horribly bad,” he says. “They don’t do anything there to help you. They just do shit there to fuck you over completely.”

The Central Nova facility is Nova Scotia’s largest jail. It was opened in October 2001, and has a capacity for 224 male and 48 female offenders. Through an agreement with federal Corrections, the prison houses both provincial offenders and newly sentenced federal inmates. Many are double-bunked, leading to stress, tensions and the potential for greater violence. According to the Canadian Press, Burnside was more than 100 prisoners over capacity last winter.

One guard who spoke with The Coast blames part of the problem at Burnside on inexperienced staff who replaced older retiring officers when Central Nova opened.

“We had a brand new staff hired there,” says the guard, who asked to remain nameless. “And right from day one we had offenders running the facility.”

In 2010, an internal report from the prison noted filthy conditions including urine, garbage and faeces throughout. CBC’s story at the time noted a guard was ordered to leave the mess alone because “We have to break them down first, show them who is in control.”

In March last year, eight men were involved in a violent disturbance. A month later, Clayton Cromwell, 23, was found dead inside his cell (an investigation is ongoing). Reports from inside have had prisoners placed in cells with shit smeared on walls and floor, left naked in segregation cells, and one case where an inmate’s toilet backed up for four days. Between 2011 and July, 2014, there were 110 common assault by inmates against staff and almost 600 against other inmates.

“It’s completely unsupervised,” one current inmate says of the “lockdown” segregation ranges. Those floors feature 15 double-bunked cells on two levels. Each cell is allowed free roam of the floor for an hour at a time. “If you’re a sex offender on a lockdown range, you’re going to get shit-bombed. It’s going to happen multiple times a day.”

The Justice Department says the opening of the new Northeast Nova correctional facility just outside of New Glasgow will help reduce the overcrowding in Burnside. Potentially, up to 100 inmates could be transferred to the new facility when it comes online next week.

Director of correctional services Sean Kelly says the new prison has already allowed for some renovations at Burnside’s day rooms. Administrators hope to offer more programs and services—particularly for mentally ill offenders—with the new space.