The first round of renovations to facilitate the implementation of direct supervision and installation of full-body X-ray scanners are nearly complete at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
Officials took journalists on a tour of the reworked north unit at the facility in Burnside on Tuesday. The jail currently houses about 220 inmates, both male and female. Of that, 161 are men. Women are housed in the east unit, men in the north and west units. There is no south unit.
Tim Carroll, superintendent of the Burnside jail, provided the tour of one of the four north unit day rooms, a large wedge-shaped area with cells for up to 62 inmates in two tiers across the wider end. A central open area features fixed metal tables with attached stools.
The renovations removed a wall that separated two smaller day rooms.
“We broke down this wall and expanded so that with this large area, initially we will be having the inmates come in and simply be housed in here and they will participate in recreational programs, academic programs, (and) cognitive therapy programs both on and off the unit,” Carroll said.
When the north unit is finished in late June, the same thing will be done to the west unit, taking about five months to complete. In total, the work reduces seven small day rooms into four larger ones and costs $6.8 million.
A work station for correctional officers is also situated in the day room, in front of the access doors at the narrow end of the wedge. Carroll said two officers will be at the station most of the time, although complete staffing details are still being worked out.
“(Previously,) officers would come into the day room, do security rounds at a minimum every half hour and then also enter the day room to address any inmate issues that may exist,” Carroll said. “There would be periods of time when the officers were not present in the day room.”
Direct supervision is already in place at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou County.
Jim Hayman, a correctional services trainer in direct supervision who worked in the Northeast jail, said the use of active, continuous supervision decreases distance between staff and inmates and helps create rapport.
“It’s very important for everyone involved to have a normal, adult relationship just as we do anywhere else, so it’s not an opposing force, them and us,” Hayman said. “We’re all living together, working together and we’re trying to help the person access things they need for their return to the community.”
The east unit houses the women inmates and has a different configuration and method of supervision. There are no plans to change that at the moment.
The installation of the body scanners is also nearly finished.
Chris Collett, executive director of Correctional Services, said the department expects them to be ready by the end of this week. There will be a training period before they are put into full use, expected to be by mid-June.
The Soter RS-model scanners are being purchased from OD Security, a Dutch company. The cost for each scanner, with installation and training, is $198,000. The Burnside jail will have two, one for the men’s side and one for the women’s unit. The Cape Breton, Northeast and Southeast correctional facilities in Sydney, Pictou County and Yarmouth, respectively, will each have one.
The scanners will be used to ensure inmates being admitted are not carrying contraband within their body or body cavities. Visitors will not have to go through the scanners.
The technology is already in use in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, Scoville said.
Dave Mills, manager of policy and programs for Correctional Services, said the low-dose X-rays used in the process have been determined to be of little risk. One scan exposes a person to 0.25 microsieverts of radiation, equivalent to eating two bananas, he said.
Asked if inmates being admitted would have the choice to opt for a physical search instead of the scan, Collett said that’s not in the plans but there still is the ability to do a strip search.
“It would be our intention that they use the body scanners,” he said. “We would have to deal with that on a case-by-case basis. The experience in Ontario (is) they haven’t had that problem.”
He said Ontario offers an amnesty box so people being admitted have the chance to put anything they’re carrying in a box on the way in.
“They have to clean out the amnesty box every week because you give them the opportunity to give it up, so a lot of times you don’t get a positive scan,” he said. “(But) we expect we’ll see challenges in everything we do.”
The jail also hosted a community group fair to help connect inmates with representatives of 22 community partners, advocacy groups and government agencies. The tour and community fair coincides with Correctional Services Week.
Scoville said it helps inmates connect with groups that may assist them with rehabilitation and reintegration.
“It’s extremely important that we provide the supports necessary to help people as they leave the correctional environment, that they’re actually able to have those services prior to being released,” he said.
One of the people taking part in the fair was Ashley Avery, women and youth services co-ordinator with Coverdale, a communitybased organization providing services for women in the criminal justice system.
“We do in-reach to Burnside twice a month so this is giving us an opportunity to come and network with other folks who are providing services to women who are being criminalized in the community, and to meet with folks and let them know our services are out there,” Avery said.
“It’s very exciting. It shows that they’re committed to connecting the community with women and with other prisoners, so it’s exciting and it’s really wonderful that they’re seeing the value and the worth of community resources, and how important it is to make sure that those connections are made.”