As many as 80 inmates, more than half the men in custody at the North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) have put pen to paper writing open letters to MLAs and the minister of justice.
The letters outline grievances about how things are run at the facility such as a lack of quality programming, the removal of the recreation director and the inability to access exams for educational upgrading. That is according to inmate Daniel Gillis who said he not only wrote one of the letters, but encouraged other inmates to do the same.
Among the letters are ones professed to have been written by accused murderers Denecho King and Colten McNeely. News/ North has no way to verify the authenticity of the letters, copies of which were emailed to the newspaper.
Gillis, who started his five and a half month sentence in July for sexual assault and assault, had his original, eight-page letter hand delivered to News/North.
He then followed up by calling News/North from the jail on Oct. 12.
“Speaking on behalf of these guys – a lot of them have been in and out of this place for over a decade – over two decades in some cases. There is a big desire for guys to change, but they are just not getting the support,” Gillis said. “A lot of guys are not very literate here and they had to get help writing their letters. It took a lot of support and cooperation to make that happen.”
Gillis said many inmates feel the support programs are not adequate. He added that inmates can not get a GED (general equivalency diploma) or an an actual high school diploma at NSCC.
“One guy spent several months learning chemistry and they wouldn’t let him (take) the exam,” Gillis said. “I myself have taught two guys here grade 11 and 12 math in the couple of months I’ve been here, but they can’t take the exam.”
Martin Goldney, deputy minister of justice, said he had seen at least some of the letters and the department is taking the complaints seriously. He said he was caught a little bit off-guard by the campaign – which he described as unprecedented in the history of the facility. Goldney added that complaints in the past have usually come through the prisoner-run inmate advisory committee.
“We’ve only had a day to look at the letters, but a lot of the themes that we are seeing seems to be based on misinformation. We understand inmates are frustrated,” Goldney said. “There seems to be a suggestion that that there have been program cuts to save costs and I don’t believe that’s accurate.“
Goldney admits the recreation director position has been eliminated and is now being filled by corrections officers, He confirmed there is no longer a GED program – saying Aurora College no longer offers it at NSCC, and he is not sure why it was cancelled. Goldney also said that part of the yard has been closed off to inmates while fence improvements are made following the escape in August 2016 by Denecho King. Goldney hopes to see that work done by the end of the year and inmate access restored to the area currently off-limits.
One MLA who has seen at least some of the letters is Tom Beaulieu, member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.
“I feel for the inmates who are doing time with no programs to support in their recovery. Most of the letters I got are from inmates who are in corrections due to alcohol and they should be given the opportunity to correct themselves,” Beaulieu stated in an email to News/North. “It can’t be good to feel like you are just being warehoused until you have completed your sentence. The inmates might feel like no one cares if they come out no further ahead than when they went to jail to start with.”