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Photo essay: Inside Canada’s East Coast prisons
Photo essay: Inside Canada’s East Coast prisons
April 19, 2018
NEWS

Members of the Senate Committee on Human Rights conducted a fact-finding mission to Atlantic Canada penitentiaries, and held a public hearing, as part of their study on the human rights of prisoners.

Stark, gripping images of life behind bars in prisons were captured in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

East Coast Forensic Hospital
Dartmouth, N.S.

Two residents at the East Coast Forensic Hospital get what exercise they can as sunlight filters through the wire that prevents contraband from being thrown into the facility from the outside world. As this is a hospital and a correctional facility, security is tight — most patients in this facility have come into conflict with the law as a result of mental health issues.

 

Standard-issue orange shoes await the start of their next journey.

 

Senator Kim Pate shares a hug with a female hospital resident as Senator Nancy Hartling, left, and Senator Jane Cordy look on. The woman spent more than 20 years in custody — including ten years in solitary confinement — until she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and finally placed in the mental health system. For many people dealing with mental health issues, help only comes after they’ve entered the criminal justice system — if at all.

 

Nova Institution for Women
Truro, N.S.

A pair of prisoners walk through the snow-covered grounds of the Nova Institution for Women.

 

A prisoner’s hand-painted inspirational messages to herself are seen on the wall of her cell.

 

A restraint bed sits in a utility room. It is outfitted with straps and used primarily for prisoners who self-harm.

 

Senator Kim Pate examines a battering ram in the prison armoury. The end has the words “knock knock” written on it in pink tape.

 

Children have a place to play when they come to visit an incarcerated relative, but one of the swings is broken and can’t be used. Family and community support is essential to the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, the committee heard.

 

Springhill Institution
Springhill, N.S.

The Springhill Institution appears to be buried in snow when senators arrive on their fact-finding mission. Dark, concrete tunnels connect different buildings within the sprawling prison complex.

 

A typical cell in the segregation unit bears traces of its occupant. The committee has heard from witnesses that being held in segregation for even short amounts of time can negatively affect prisoners’ mental health — particularly if they have existing mental health problems.

 

The cell where prisoners are held when they’re making a phone call, one of the only avenues open to them to speak with people from the outside world.

 

Atlantic Institution
Renous, N.B.

From left, Senators Nancy Hartling, Wanda Thomas Bernard, Kim Pate and Jane Cordy walk through the halls of the Atlantic Institution, a men’s maximum security facility in New Brunswick.

 

Prisoners can apply to spend a few hours or days with their families in this bungalow on the prison grounds.

 

A box for prisoner complaints bears a worn sticker of a guard in full riot gear that reads in part: “Correctional officers never start the fights. But we always finish them.”

 

Dorchester Penitentiary
Dorchester, N.B.

The segregation range at the Dorchester Penitentiary features a gutter running down the wall. It collects and drains human waste overflowing from toilets clogged by prisoners in acts of protest, the committee heard.

 

Committee chair Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard looks into a cramped cell with two bunk beds. Senator Bernard wore a wave cap at Dorchester to bring awareness of the cultural significance of wave caps. The committee heard from several witnesses that black prisoners are not allowed to wear wave caps because prison staff fear they signify gang ties.