Burnside jail so cold it’s difficult to sleep, inmate says

Jennifer Bowser says she’s used to spending time in jail. What she can’t get used to, however, are what she says are the frigid temperatures this winter inside the women’s unit of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

“It’s absolutely freezing,” the inmate said in a phone interview.

Bowser, who said she spent the winters of 2013 and 2014 in the Dartmouth, N.S., facility, known as the Burnside jail, also did a stint in a federal prison. This winter she’s in Burnside’s East Unit, which houses women.

“When you put your sock foot or your bare foot down on the cold concrete that’s on our ranges, it’s ice cold,” Bowser said.

Department of Justice spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said the temperature this past weekend dipped down to 18.5 C in the East Unit due to a heating malfunction. Typically, the temperature is set at 21.5 C, she said.

“The problem was corrected Monday,” Fairbairn said in a written statement. “The temperature is back to normal in the unit.”

The Department of Justice said it’s fixed a heating problem and that the facility’s private owner is responsible for fixing the leaking windows. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

But Bowser said the colder temperatures in the East Unit’s 12 cells weren’t limited to just this past weekend. She said inmates in the unit have been complaining about the cold since October.

“Since the beginning of the winter we’ve only had one week where the heat’s been on,” she said. “Nobody even wants to get in the shower because it’s that cold. And on top of the heat not being on, the showers are freezing cold.”

Bowser said inmates’ requests for extra blankets and sweaters fall on deaf ears. Sweaters, she said, are in such short supply in the East Unit that inmates are reluctant to send them to the laundry for fear they won’t get them back.

Some sections of the jail are still being renovated. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The windows are leaking too.

“When it rains outside the windows are leaking and the water is pouring in, and they say they’re going to fix it and they never do,” Bowser said. “Windows and walls are so cold that sleeping is tough because you can’t get warm with the drafts coming off of them.”

Fairbairn said the private group that owns the jail, which opened in 2001 and was built under a public-private partnership model, is working on fixing the leaky windows.

“Inmates have been moved from the affected cells until the work is done,” she said.

During a heat wave last July, another female inmate raised concerns about the temperature. The women’s wing of the jail was not equipped with air conditioning. The Department of Justice said renovations were planned for later in the summer.  

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