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Prisoners strike at Matsqui, guards respond with lockdown

May 27, 2009

Work refusal leads to Matsqui lockdown

Christina Toth, The Abbotsford Times [British Columbia]
Published: Friday, May 22, 2009

Matsqui Institution inmates have been confined to their living units since May 19, in an effort by prison officials to douse potential unrest over new structured work schedules, and in response to threats of assault against some inmates.

Since March 30, inmates at the Abbotsford prison have refused to attend work or programs because they oppose the more stringent hours and restrictions to upper and lower exercise yards, said Gordon Tanner, an assistant warden at the facility.

Threats made by some inmates against other inmates who were willing to return prompted the lockdown.

Tanner said a prisoners’ committee was struck recently and its representatives have been in talks with prison administrators to resolve the situation.

As of April 1, Tanner said Correctional Service Canada began implementing a series of changes nationally that address five themes, including eliminating the presence of drugs in institutions and making inmates more accountable.

Inmates are encouraged to attend their work, classes and other programs during structured morning and afternoon hours, as they would have to do if they weren’t in prison.

“The structured work day is getting closer to the work day they would have in the community. We’re trying to get them accustomed to that,” in preparation for their release, Tanner said.

Until recently, inmates had access to large yards on the prison grounds, but these areas were also where outsiders would regularly toss drugs and cell phones over the fence.

In order to gain control over this entry method of contraband, the prison is changing the landscaping around the fence perimeters and boosting surveillance. Inmates can exercise in the gym or have monitored one-hour sessions in the large yards, said Tanner.

But prisoners want freer access to fresh air. Through negotiations, officials have agreed to give them access to a smaller ‘day yard,’ after staff erect an internal fence.

“I’m hoping that will be done in the next couple of weeks,” Tanner said last week. Talks between inmates and managers continue. No injuries to prison staff or inmates as a result of the work refusal have been reported. Regular scheduled visits and family visits to the facility continue as usual.

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