A former inmate and his experience with jail

St. Thomas University student Pat Craig poses for a portrait in James Dunn Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (Jacob Moore/AQ)

Pat Craig spent more than a third of his life in the Canadian prison system.

He was an addict from the age of 12 and spent about 12 years in and out of prison for drug and alcohol-related crimes. 

“I was getting towards my mid-20s going, ‘Christ, is this what I’m going to be forever?’” said Craig.

Craig has been clean and relatively sober for 10 years now.

When Craig learned the provincial government approached the City of Fredericton proposing a new jail, he said the last thing he wanted was his income tax to pay for it.

“But if they’re going to do this, please do me the decency of explaining to me why that’s happening,” he said.

Fredericton city council will hold a vote Monday on the third and final reading of a proposed rezoning of the Vanier Industrial Park to be used for a $32 million jail.

In a 2021 news release from the Government of New Brunswick, then-Public Safety Minister Ted Flemming said the correctional system was “stretched” to maximum capacity.

“As of mid-October, our correctional system was at capacity with 498 adult males in custody,” he said at the time.

About 100 people attended city council’s second reading on Jan. 9 to voice their opposition.

Those who attended the council meeting worried about their property values decreasing because of the proximity to a jail. But Craig believes people should understand how inmates are affected by the prison system.

“You’d be hard pressed to go through any institution, provincial or federal level, and find a person that wasn’t mentally ill, addicted or both,” he said.

Craig said rather than the punitive approach of the correctional system, there should be more of a restorative approach to help people who are addicted to substances or mentally ill.

“I’ve seen guys literally die in provincial institutions because they were in there for an extended period of time without access to resources,” he said. 

On top of this, Craig said that guards mistreat inmates regularly, recalling a moment in 2013 when a couple of guards at the Saint John County jail restrained him on intake to search him for drugs.

He remembers being thrown before finally being pinned down and cuffed.

“One of them decided that a great big kick in the ass was what I needed,” he said. “[They] broke my tailbone.”

Craig said he was incarcerated for a few years after that but never received medical attention. 

His tailbone still hurts.

“It’s a constant reminder of systemic brutality,” he said.

Fredericton Deputy Mayor Greg Ericson said although many people raise “existential” questions about the role of jails, he feels city council only has power to fix the problem at hand, which he says is the current overpopulation of the New Brunswick jails.

“The City of Fredericton has no policy impact or levers when it comes to the institutions that provide our correctional facilities in the province,” said Ericson. “That’s 100 per cent provincial and federal government stuff.”

Ericson appreciates the value of that perspective, admitting that he could discuss  “at great length” how the correctional system should function differently.

But he said that isn’t “relevant” to the decision the city is required to make.

“We listen with an open mind. Based on community input, and our ability to hear that input,” he said. “[When] we have the third reading [of the proposed rezoning], we share our position and vote with our conscience.”