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Conflict and Struggle

P.A. Pen Not Squelched in Hurry; fires put out

Regina Leader Post
July 13, 1955. p.1

PRINCE ALBERT
Special

Sheepish inmates of the Saskatchewan penitentiary, closely supervised by armed guards, this morning started the task of cleaning up the debris left by their short-lived riot of Tuesday night.

Warden C.C. Coutts, recalled overnight from his vacation, stated this morning that full investigation into the cause and results of the disturbance had begun. He said a press statement would not be issued until the investigation was complete.

Mr. Coutts canceled a press conference slated for 10 a.m. He stated the conference had not been arranged with him and he could make no official comment until after his investigation.

While admitting news reporters into his office at the main entrance to the institution, he refused to allow any “civilians” inside the prison proper. he also banned the use of cameras inside the prison walls.

Mr. Coutts said this was not lack of co-operation on the part of the prison staff, but that he “simply could not afford to release guards from essential work to escort civilians through the institution.”

“We simply have too much to do and I ask for the co-operation of the press and radio until we can see our way clear,” he said.

Meanwhile, it was learned inmates of the prison were fed “old-style” this morning, through the bars of their cells. Normally they would be released a block at a time to visit the serving hall and then return to their open cells to eat their meal.

FURTHER DAMAGE

The light of day brought evidence of further damage caused in the riot. The paint shop in the prison yard and a storage shed were both extensively damaged, in addition to the outbuildings burned down at the start of the riot. In addition, cupboards in many of the cell blocks were torn off the walls and smashed.

No livestock was injured when stables in the prison yard were set afire. Horses were released by guards or inmates at the start of the trouble.

Damage to the prison laundry machine shop and old work shop inside the main buildings was reported as extensive. A representative of the provincial fire commissioner’s office was called in to investigate and report.

GUARD’S ARM BROKEN

Mr. Coutts stated that injuries were light considering the extent of the disturbance. One guard received a fractured arm and one of the inmates got a bad gash on the head. Otherwise injuries were confined to bruises and minor lacerations.

An early report that one of the convicts was hit in the face with a tear gas charge and blinded proved to be unfounded. Effects of the tear gas on rioting inmates was reported to be completely worn off by this morning.

The riot is expected to have some effect on the rehabilitation program of the institution. Among the concessions granted since the start of the program in 1949 were more recreation time and outside sports, amateur concerts, participation in city radio programs and visits by local sports teams and entertainers to the prison.

It was stated that the degree of continuance of the program would depend on the findings of the investigation.

The prisoners broke into the canteen and used bottles as weapons against the guards. The prison doctor was on the scene until after midnight treating cuts and bruises sustained by the staff but up to that time had not been able to “get at” any of the prisoners to treat their injuries.

The riot itself was broken up shortly after it started. Guards used tear gas guns and revolvers to herd the inmates into cells as soon as the trouble broke out. Several tear gas shells were fired among the prisoners and at least five revolvers shots fired into the air before the men were all locked away.

The trouble started as the inmates were coming in from the evening exercise period which lasted from 5:30 to 6:30. A group of convicts in the dome, the central part of the institution, started to fight and the six fires broke out at the same time.

It was unofficially reported that eight of the guards inside the prison were manhandled and held as hostages at the outset of the riot. However, all were released within a few minutes.

Deputy Warden Crofton, acting as warden in the absence of C. C. Coutts immediately ordered all guards armed with rifles or pistols and issued the snub-nosed tear gas guns. The prisoners were then herded into the nearest cells, regardless of which block they normally resided.

City fire trucks called to the scene had to wait outside until the riot was quelled before being allowed in. One of the trucks was driven into the prison yard to fight the raging fires in the stables and granary, while the other pumped water through hoses rolled in through the main doors.

Two newspaper reporters were allowed inside the buildings once the prisoners were put away. The dome section was littered with broken bottles and there were splashes of blood on several parts of the floor.

Deputy Warden Crofton attributed the shortness of the riot to the speed at which the guards reacted to the trouble. With the exception of spotters locked high in the dome and cell blocks in wire cages, the guards inside the walls are not normally armed.

Mr. Crofton agreed that the riot appeared to have been planned well in advance but could give no reason for it. There had been no unusual complaints in the past few weeks.

The round-up of prisoners netted an assortment of weapons ranging from kitchen knives, and bars of iron to axe and hammer handles and knotted rope studded with nails. The weapons appeared to have been grabbed up by the prisoners as they ranged through the machine shops and the canteen during the early stages of the riot.

Other guards spoke of the publicity given to the Walla Walla prison riot two weeks ago and the news that the demands of the prisoners had been met by the prison authorities as reason for the outbreak. Mention was also made of the recent transfer of a number of trouble-makers from the Kingston penitentiary to the Prince Albert institution.

City police early set a road block on the routes to the penitentiary turning back all sight-seers. Among the persons barred from the prison area was one from Ottawa who claimed to be an inspector of prisons.

Deputy Warden Crofton stated that a full investigation would be held. He said that no official statement would be made until Warden Coutts returned from his vacation. A radio message had been sent to the warden and he was expected back by morning, it was stated.

BAD ONE

Mr. Crofton stated that the riot was the worst in the penitentiary’s 44-year history. The last bad disturbance was shortly before the Second World War when a hunger strike was staged by most of the inmates. There had been several minor disturbances since, but none of such intensity.

It was learned that there were only 14 guards actually on duty at the time of the outbreak, although more than 125 staff members and RCMP were called in by 10 p.m. Radio and a fleet of taxis were used to bring the off duty staff members to the institution.

The riot occurred as the evening staff change-over was taking place. This accounted for the small number on duty inside the walls and in the dome. However, on hearing the racket, the guards leaving immediately returned.

Mr. Crofton paid tribute to the 14 guards and to those who arrived on the scene early. He said that if it had not been for their firmness, the riot could have taken on serious proportions.