Inmate who took part in riot at notorious Iqaluit jail says conditions making inmates worse
‘I just flipped out … sooner or later someone [else is] gonna flip out too,’ says Steven Akittirq
By Pauline Pemik, Walter Strong, CBC News, October 5, 2017
“My name is Steven Akittirq and I’ve been incarcerated since June 2014.”
On Monday, Steven Akittirq, 27, pleaded guilty in an Iqaluit courtroom to second-degree murder in the June 9, 2014, death of Glenna Attagutalukutuk, a teenage girl in Igloolik, Nunavut. A four-day sentencing hearing is scheduled to be held in the community starting on Jan. 30.
But when Akittirq called a CBC reporter in Iqaluit on the weekend, he was still facing a first-degree murder charge, and said a week earlier he was one of four inmates part of a destructive riot on Sept. 25. at Iqaluit’s Baffin Correctional Centre.
Akittirq told CBC he acted out because he wanted to draw attention to living conditions at the Iqaluit jail.
“We can’t do anything,” he said “We’re locked up 23 hours a day. There’s no programs.
“We’ve been trying to put in a request to have programs, but the ADW [assistant deputy warden] and the warden aren’t doing much to help us.”
Akittirq said he and the other inmates lashed out to get attention.
“I’ve been putting requests to see a psychologist or a doctor,” he said. “But I haven’t been able to see one.”
‘I just flipped out’
“I’ve been incarcerated for three years and I’ve been having problems with my health,” Akittirq said. “I’ve got fed up with those people [who] aren’t trying to help me so I just flipped out.”
Akittirq said he and other inmates have no access to treatment programs that could help with the substance abuse and violence that brought them to jail in the first place.
“Basically we just watch TV and do nothing. [We] just sit around and lay around. There’s no programs at all.
“Sometimes we can’t even call our family because we don’t have any jobs here and we don’t even make money to afford to buy calling cards.”
Akittirq does not deny he belongs behind bars for his crime, but said conditions at the Baffin Correctional Centre mean incarceration does nothing to rehabilitate a prisoner before release. Instead, he said time behind bars in Iqaluit can drive a prisoner crazy.
He said inmates — especially long-term ones — need programs that address the root cause of their criminal behaviour.
“That’s the only way to fix our lives,” Akittirq said. “If we don’t do anything, we’re not going anywhere. It’s like a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later someone [else is] gonna flip out too.
“If you sit there and do nothing, nothing’s gonna change.”
Akittirq said he looks forward to serving his time in a federal prison down south so he can request a psychologist, something he said he’s been asking for since he was taken into custody in 2014.
No response to complaints
Since 2015, he said, he has attempted to get a letter of complaint outside prison walls to the minister of justice, as well as a letter to members of the Legislative Assembly, neither of which, he said, appear to have been delivered.
“I put in a complaint toward the Legislative Assembly but it didn’t go through,” he said. “I tried calling the members [of the Legislative Assembly] and they say they never received a complaint against the warden.”
He said he was told by the Department of Justice they never received any letters from him either.
CBC has requested an interview with the Department of Justice, but the department has not agreed to an interview or provided any information related to Akittirq’s statements.
The department said it would comment after they reviewed the matter.
Akittirq said he and others were pepper sprayed during the riot, but that the situation was handled well.
At the time of the riot last week, the Baffin Correctional Centre was housing 55 inmates, with 20 serving prison sentences and 35 remanded in custody, according to a Department of Justice press release.
Prison to be renovated
The Baffin correctional facility is slated to be extensively renovated, rebuilt and renamed the Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre under a $76-million plan, beginning next summer.
The prison was built nearly 30 years ago, and designed as a minimum-security facility for 41 inmates. At times, the prison has regularly housed more than 75 inmates at a time.
The construction of the new Makigiarvik Correctional Centre in 2015 — a minimum-security facility meant to hold 48 prisoners — took some pressure off the Baffin Correctional Centre.