Overcrowding and understaffing is a recipe for disaster at Ontario jails

Friday, July 20, 2012   by: Kate AdamsOvercrowding and understaffing is a recipe for disaster at Ontario jails say local correctional workers, so much so that they staged an information rally Thursday to bring their concerns into the public eye.

Staff at Ontario’s provincial correctional facilities say with the new federal crime legislation introduced they are bracing for more jail overcrowding.

While their colleagues in the probation and parole offices say they can’t keep up with caseloads.

This week OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the Conservative government’s Bill C-10, otherwise known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, will see provisions for mandatory minimum sentences, fewer conditional sentences and harsher sentences for young offenders. The bill will also eliminate double credit for time already served, and therefore will stuff more prisoners into already overcrowded jails and that leaves corrections officers fearing more tension and violence in the institutions.

“Corrections officers accept a certain level of stress as part of the job,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President. “You stir in overcrowding into the living units and the stress level multiplies tenfold.”

In federal prisons “double-bunking” squeezes more prisoners into jails designed to accommodate one inmate per cell. In Ontario jails, most single cells have been modified to house two inmates, and often sleep three or even four.

Dan Sidsworth, Provincial Chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division was in North Bay for the rally says with current conditions and overcrowding they are seeing a level of violence in the jail system that is unprecedented.

“Last year OPSEU recorded 485 assaults made by prisoners against Ontario correctional officers, something that is compounded by overcrowding. We fear this trend is continuing and it is only getting worse when added to other issues like the province’s two-year hiring freeze on correctional officers and increased gang activity inside the jails.“

He says with the changes scheduled under Bill C-10, conditions will grow worse and prisons will only get more crowded through 2020.

“The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has no plan in place to deal with this issue,” Sidsworth said. “Two new prisons planned to open in the next two years will only marginally increase prisoner capacity, and will fall far short of the projected total inmate population by that time.”

OPSEU local 616 President Mike Bisaillon echoed Sidsworth’s concerns stating that the conditions are dangerous for staff, prisoners and the general public.

“We’re out here today to express our concerns with an employer who doesn’t seem to want to work with us. We are incredibly short staffed and compounded by that is the overcrowding.”

“This is going on throughout the province and I think correctional officers have just had enough. “

Bisaillon says with the Correctional College not taking on new students until 2013 there is no relief in sight.

“One of the problems with overcrowding you have to remember is there’s been some closures throughout the province, but I think the real problem is we can deal with that if we had enough staff and we don’t.”

“The Correctional College has not put out any new recruits in two years and has no plans to apparently till 2013.”

“So I don’t know what they thought was going to happen … hardly a shift goes by where we are not short where managers are forced to do our work and everybody is getting angry, frustrated and tired.”

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