Counselling, courses and recreation at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary have been halted over Christmas due to a staffing shortage at the St. John’s jail.
But while inmates wait it out, they’ve negotiated for gaming systems.
Cindy Murphy, executive director of the John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said her staff were told they wouldn’t be able to teach their regular courses — which include education on trauma, addictions and anger management — until mid-January.
“It’s been going on for many months. I think we’ve reached a point now that it’s become more critical,” Murphy said in a recent interview.
Murphy said a delay in programming could translate into a delay in release for inmates who require certain conditions before appearing before the National Parole Board.
“I think [the province] is doing their best to fill the positions. But it’s really a long-term problem. Some of our volunteers can’t get in to do volunteer work, and Christmas is a difficult time to begin with for so many who were incarcerated.”
But amid Murphy’s concerns, an inmate committee made up of men serving sentences or awaiting trial has negotiated a way to get through the season without the programming.
A member of the inmate committee told CBC News the group successfully acquired televisions, PlayStations, headsets, controllers and several new games from the provincial Justice Department.
At least one of the consoles is the newest Sony edition, a PlayStation 5. Far Cry 6, God of War Ragnarök and FIFA 22 were among the games allotted to the inmates.
HMP losing guards: union
The Department of Justice and Public Safety told CBC News it would not be able to respond to questions in time for deadline, and would not comment on the severity of the staffing shortage, citing safety concerns.
A spokesperson said HMP officials do all they can to provide programming, but only when it is safe to do so.
In early December, NAPE president Jerry Earle said 24-hour shifts are becoming a regular occurrence, not just at the prison but in correctional facilities on Newfoundland’s west coast, too.
“We continue to lose correctional officers. I’m being told by front-line officers before they have a sick leave call, before they have a family emergency call or bereavement call, they are routinely down 14 to 15 [people],” Earle said.
“That has to be filled. And guess how that’s filled? Mandatory overtime, most often.”
Earle said the shortage of staff has repeatedly resulted in inmates losing access to recreation, programming and even visits.
At the time, a Justice Department spokesperson said recruitment efforts are underway and 34 guards had been hired as of last year, with more to begin in the new year.
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