ST. JOHN’S, N.L. –
Inmates at Newfoundland’s oldest and largest provincial jail say the facility’s visiting room has been condemned because of mould.
Jesse Lewis, an inmate at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s, says guards announced Friday that they could no longer allow people in the room for in-person visits.
The provincial Justice Department confirmed Tuesday that in-person visits were “temporarily suspended,” but it said virtual visits were being arranged.
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was built in 1859, and though it has been upgraded, the building’s crumbling infrastructure, mould and rodent problems are well documented.
Lewis said in a phone call from the jail on Sunday that the cancelled in-person visits mean he won’t be able to see his grandparents, who drive nearly 70 kilometres from the community of Avondale to see him.
He says conditions inside the jail are deteriorating and inmates are often woken up at night by the screams of their peers who find rodents in their beds.
“We’re being traumatized while we’re here, and there’s nothing to help us,” Lewis said.
People are leaving Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in worse states of mental health than when they arrived, he added.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of inmate suicide by jail capacity in Atlantic Canada, according to government figures. Between 2010 and 2020, five inmates died by suicide in the province’s jail system, which has 281 beds. By comparison, five people died by suicide over the same period in Nova Scotia jails, which have a total inmate capacity of about 700.
The provincial Justice Department says it was notified about an inmate death at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on Aug. 22 but has released no details about the identity of the inmate or the cause of death. A department spokesperson said last week that the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the office of the chief medical examiner were investigating.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2023.