An unending cycle of violence inside the Burnside jail

Independent review is needed at Central Nova.

Allan MacMaster is MLA for Inverness and justice critic for the Progressive Conservatives.
Allan MacMaster is MLA for Inverness and justice critic for the Progressive Conservatives.

One of the core responsibilities of government is to ensure the safety and security of all citizens. The citizens in our correctional facilities, staff and residents, are no exception.

Over the past 18 months, a string of serious incidents and injuries at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, known as “Burnside,” have led to many questioning the safety and security of those who reside and work there. 

Earlier this month, a 19-year-old man suffered life-threatening injuries after an assault at the jail. Last June, two more inmates were taken to hospital amid reports the incident involved one inmate being stabbed repeatedly with a sharp object. Last November, an inmate was taken to hospital after being assaulted by two others. His injuries required surgery.

These are just some of the recent acts of violence at Burnside. The staff there is doing our province a service. They deserve to be treated with respect and, crucially, to go to work knowing they will be safe and protected. It’s hard to imagine the staff can maintain that necessary confidence in the current work environment.

Moreover, the inmates at Burnside are there for three reasons: to be punished for their crimes; to be rehabilitated so they become productive members of society; and to ensure law-abiding citizens are protected from them.

No matter the severity of their crimes, they do not deserve to continue in an unending cycle of violence. Additionally, allowing this kind of brutality to continue at Burnside poses a further risk to public safety. How can we law-abiding taxpayers expect proper rehabilitation to occur when, in many cases, the violence that lead to their initial incarceration is repeated during their stay at the facility?

Of course, there are problems at Burnside aside from the ongoing violence.

In November 2014, prison officials mistakenly allowed an inmate to escape while he was awaiting trial on several charges, including attempted murder. Again, public safety was put at risk that day. There is no excuse for this kind of incompetence from those charged with keeping us safe.

Our Liberal justice minister, Lena Diab, tried to assure Nova Scotians by pledging to get to the bottom of incidents at Burnside. Her response left me wanting. To date, all the minister has produced have been one-page reports that do nothing to reassure citizens their prison system is being managed competently. That’s not good enough.

The staff at Burnside deserve to know what’s wrong with their workplace and we deserve to see a real plan to fix it. The same is true for the inmates and their families.

I’ve asked the justice minister to order an independent review of the jail. At this point, the only way to get the bottom of the situation and to identify real solutions is for this review to begin immediately, and for it, be conducted independently of government. The minister disagrees. So far, she has refused my request.

The problems at Burnside didn’t start with minister Diab and the Liberals, but right now they have the power to fix them. An honest, independent, assessment of the problem would be a good start.

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