John Hogan, Minister of Justice
Province of Newfoundland and Labrador
P.O. Box 8700
St. John’s, NL A1B 4J6
December 6, 2023
Dear Minister Hogan,
Recent news stories in The Telegram about conditions at His Majesty’s Penitentiary and the most recent death of an inmate leads me to believe that nothing has changed since the letters I wrote you in June and July of this year and the subsequent meetings we held. You and your Department officials have had almost 6 months to address issues and ensure the safety of inmates and staff alike, and yet, here we are dealing with conditions that are virtually unchanged and the death of a young man.
In my June 13 letter, I urged you to take immediate action to address the serious conditions at the penitentiary. In my July 11 letter following our June 28 meeting, I made a number of recommendations that might help address deficits in the short term. What actions were taken to address the concerns I raised in those letters and our meetings?
My June 13 letter was in response to concerns from inmates and families of inmates about excessive confinement to prison cells, severe restriction of family visitation rights, the lack of recreation time, and access to medical treatment as a result of staff shortages. Conditions at the prison were placing untold stress on the mental and physical health of inmates and staff alike. I feared working conditions would drive staff to early retirement or to other professions and exacerbate conditions for those who work and those who live at HMP. We actually filed an access to information request in May seeking the number of correctional officers who were supposed to be working per shift vs the actual complement, but were denied for operational and safety reasons. For those reasons I resisted making concerns public and because I took you at your word that Justice and Public Safety was committed to addressing the issue. Obviously, that was not the case.
I renew my call for action to ensure staff have safe working conditions and inmates have humane living conditions and are able to avail of programs and other services. If maintenance is an issue, then dedicate a maintenance team (or teams) to address deficiencies as quickly as possible. Invest the necessary financial resources to do so while we wait for the construction of the new correctional facility. Consider releasing low risk inmates on remand with the appropriate security measures to reduce crowding and hopefully allow inmates to access the services they need.
Do not wait for more news stories to expose the terrible conditions at the penitentiary or another tragic inmate death to act. As I offered in June, my caucus and I remain willing to sit down with you and department personnel to discuss solutions.
Leader, Third Party Caucus
M.H.A., St. John's Centre