APTN National News
After being hit with a hunger strike before Christmas the Regina Correctional Centre is about to be hit with another.
Inmates on the remand wing of the prison have organized a hunger strike to begin Thursday at 8 a.m.
Kenneth Morrison from the Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan said he can no longer stomach the food.
“We’re going to send our food back,” said Morrison, 27, in a telephone interview from the jail with APTN National News Tuesday. “We’re going to start sending all the trays back … the meat is either uncooked or smells.”
He said he and about 100 other inmates have signed a petition to join the strike and many are Aboriginal peoples.
Morrison, who is on Unit 1C awaiting trial on assault, possession of stolen property and breaches, said the food is prepared by an outside company and delivered to the inmates on trays with a cart, which he is in charge of.
He said the cart is dirty and “smells like a garbage truck.”
It’s not the first time the RCC has been hit with an inmate hunger strike.
Inmates from another wing of RCC organized a strike Dec. 19 lasting a few days after the province said they spoke to the company hired to supply the food – Compass Group – beginning in November.
Concerns about the food have had raised by inmates after Compass took over and a petition with a list of demands was submitted to prison management on Nov. 18.
“I just think that this is inhumane what they’re serving us. I wouldn’t serve this to my dog and what they’re doing is wrong and enough is enough,” Forrest Pelletier, an inmate serving time for break and enter and possession of a weapon, said at the time.
Justice Department spokesman Drew Wilby said in December officials were looking into the matter.
“We are about six weeks into that (new contract) now and we expected some challenges of course, with any transition like that there will be some challenges,” Wilby said.
“We have addressed some of those concerns with Compass Group and continue to do so and we’re confident that we will be able to find a solution and make sure those high quality meals are being provided across the province.”
Wilby told APTN Tuesday the department can’t comment on what may happen but is confident Compass can address food quality challenges, as with any transition period there is going to be bumps. He said Compass is responsible for eight institutions and there have been complaints from others as well.
The Saskatchewan NDP jumped on the issue at the time accusing the SaskParty government of “risking public safety in order to pursue privatization.”
“Saskatchewan families also don’t want to see a flood of inmates needing medical care as a result of spoiled or raw food,” NDP central services critic Warren McCall said in December.
The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union warned there would be issues with privatizing food services in prisons.
“These trays of food are being sent back and new trays being brought forward,” union president Bob Bymoen said. “Who’s billing for the new trays, is the government paying for the additional trays of food? In the contract, if they order additional trays of food they have to pay for it, so are we paying twice to feed the same people?”
Bymoen said he hoped the government rethinks its decision.
“With Compass they have a chance to review this and own up to their mistakes and get out of this contract in a year and they should seriously be looking at that.,” he said.
Wilby said the government has no intention of reversing its decision and will honour the five-year contract signed with Compass in November as it will save the province an estimated $12 million over life of the contract.
A spokeswoman for Compass said they are “investigating and addressing all comments regarding our operations” at RCC.
That includes daily meetings with its operations teams to reinforce proper cooking and food handling said Saira Husain, manager of communications.
“We are in contact with our client on an ongoing basis to ensure that we can resolve this situation as quickly as possible,” said Husain.
Morrison said the inmates on his wing are demanding to go back to the old system before Compass was hired.
“It’s constantly getting worse,” said Morrison. “They were sending lettuce that was brown. Nothing has been digestible.”
On Tuesday, Morrison and the other inmates on his wing were given macaroni.
“The macaroni was cold. I could cut cubes out of it with my fork,” he said, adding most of the guys sent the food back without eating it.
A call to the director of RCC hasn’t been returned.
— with files from The Canadian Press