WINNIPEG — Newly obtained statistics point to increasing violence at the Winnipeg Remand Centre and the union that represents correctional workers says methamphetamine use is a major factor.
"Our members actually believe that some of the incidents are definitely fuelled by drugs such as meth," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.
"They know that meth is an issue, that it lingers in the inmate."
Records obtained by The Canadian Press under the province's freedom-of-information law show remand centre guards called for backup 47 times between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 this year. That's already higher than any full-year numbers reported in the previous five years for which statistics were provided and more than double the number in 2014.
There were another 20 cases in the first nine months of this year in which a corrections officer issued a more serious call of being in immediate danger. That figure is on track, by the end of 2018, to be the highest in recent years.
One worker at the remand centre, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss matters inside the jail, said inmates on meth are unpredictable and can become violent suddenly.
"You're dealing with zombies, for lack of a better word," the worker told The Canadian Press.
"An alcoholic is usually slow. They're sluggish. But an inmate who's on meth ... in my opinion they have increased strength."
The 300-bed remand centre is normally the first stop for people after they are arrested until they are granted bail or transferred to another jail. Because the effects of meth can last much longer than those of other drugs, inmates can be under its influence long after they enter the facility, the worker said.
The worker said one inmate at the remand centre was on meth and appeared to settle down, but then erupted in violence when cell doors were opened.
"He came out of his cell and proceeded directly into another cell ... and with a (homemade) weapon, started attacking both of the guys who were sleeping."
Gawronsky said the union has raised the issue with Justice Minister Cliff Cullen and is hoping to have jail staff receive more training.
The Justice Department would not comment on security issues inside the remand centre. Cullen, who was out of the province much of last week meeting with other provincial justice ministers, issued a brief written statement.
"Correctional centres can be volatile environments and Manitoba Justice is committed to working with staff and the (union) to manage offenders with a variety of needs, including addictions to methamphetamine and other substances," he said in the statement.
The John Howard Society of Canada, a prisoners rights group, said rising meth problems in jails should come as no surprise, given that police forces in Winnipeg and other cities have noticed an increase in the drug's use.
John Hutton, the group's executive director in Manitoba, said the problem needs to be addressed before people end up behind bars.
"The facilities weren't built with detoxification units and it's a challenge," Hutton said.
"I don't think anyone would disagree we need more resources in the community for people to get treatment for meth addiction before they end up in custody."
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press