Wednesday’s deadly riot at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary may have been started by inmates assigned to work in the facility’s kitchen.
James Bloomfield, a representative with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers said the facility had been on a modified routine for several days prior to the riot due to issues in the penitentiary kitchens.
“In this situation there [were] some issues with the kitchen workers, and the kitchen workers being inmates were refusing to go to work and were having some discussions over portion sizes,” Bloomfield said.
The medium-security inmates were released from their cells Wednesday afternoon to go to work and refused, Bloomfield said, which resulted in negotiators being called in.
“They realized they were not going to be fruitful in their discussions,” Bloomfield said. “There was no communication from the inmate side so we then deployed the emergency response team to control the area.”
According to Bloomfield, the prisoners barricaded themselves in as best they could and set about destroying everything within reach as the emergency response team prepared to retake the unit. Bloomfield said inmates smashed every light bulb and window, pulled beds from walls, set fires and caused flooding throughout the unit.
“The destruction is quite amazing, actually,” he said. “The area is completely uninhabitable at this point.”
As violence and destruction reigned within the unit, Bloomfield said the emergency response team stormed the barricades.
“They deployed a lot of gas, a lot of pepper spray in various forms,” he said. “It was found to be not as effective as we needed it to be, as the windows were all smashed out.”
With the gas not working, the emergency response team used their firearms, injuring six inmates with shotgun pellets. Bloomfield said officers then found three inmates suffering from stab wounds, one of whom died in hospital. The deceased inmate was later identified by Correctional Service Canada as Jason Leonard Bird, 43.
Bloomfield said one officer was exposed to a large amount of blood and was taken to hospital as a precaution. Overall he said he was impressed by the way staff handled the riot.
“At this point, it seems that everybody responded perfectly,” Bloomfield said. “Everybody did a really good job from the top down yesterday, and that’s what saved lives last night.”
Bloomfield said he anticipates prisoners will need to be transferred to other facilities as the medium-security wing “will not be operational for months.”
“We’ll be working through where exactly we’re going to house these individuals, how many we have to transfer to different institutions, and how we’re going to logistically do all this,” he said.
In the meantime, Bloomfield said mental health supports were put in place to help penitentiary staff cope with stress. The facility remains in a state of lockdown with visiting hours suspended.