Crisis at Ontario Jails

Correctional staff are crying for help from the provincial government over a long list of problems in Ontario’s jails including drug use, violence and door locks that don’t work properly.

It’s a year to the day the same group brought up the crisis in corrections, and since then the situation has only gotten worse.

The Niagara Detention Centre has a serious problem. Roughly half of their correctional officers have asked to be transferred out. They say a $6-million security software system doesn’t work problem and officers are not safe.

The problem is just the tip of a dangerous and often deadly iceberg. Members of the public service union severe overcrowding, crumbling infrastructure and lackluster training have left officers vulnerable.

Correctional Officer Chris Jackel says that inmate assaults on staff have shot up from 321 in 2010 to 544 in 2017.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, CHCH learned that in Hamilton’s Barton Street Jail, there were almost 100 assaults on staff from 2012 to 2017 and over 1,600 between inmates from 2012 to 2018.

The lack of support doesn’t just hurt officers. Inmates are also in danger.

Last spring, CHCH chronicled an inquest into the rampant drug use at the Barton Jail. 62 recommendations were made, none have been implemented yet, and just last Friday, the jail witnessed it’s 14th drug-related death in 7 years.

It sparked a weekend-long demonstration by the inmates families who feel that their deaths were preventable.

With the provincial budget coming up next week, correctional officers want action not words.

One Action Union Leader, Smokey Thomas is looking for is the government handing down an additional $1-billion, on top of the $2.65-billion already spent each year on Ontario jails.

For a long term solution, Thomas believes correctional officers would be best served focusing on maintaining order and not an inmate’s mental health.

While she didn’t comment on what the budget may hold, Minister of Correctional Services Sylvie Jones says the province has already implemented mental health services for front line workers.

The Public Employees Union is asking for Minister Sylvie Jones to step down, claiming she’s been missing in action, despite her saying she’s visited one jail and plans to check out more. When asked whether she would step down, the Minister says it’s up to the Premier’s office.