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Lock Talk:  A Publication of the OPSEU Corrections Campaign

November 29, 2002

Ministry must take steps to fix problems at the Don

Lawyers coming and going in our institutions are as commonplace as inmate counts and serving meals. But at the Toronto (Don) Jail, some lawyers there have been giving their clients more than just legal advice.

Staff at the jail have in recent weeks caught 10 lawyers bringing contraband into their institution: seven giving tobacco to inmates and three bringing in drugs. This prompted mass work refusals by staff, who refused to allow criminal lawyers to meet face to face with inmates at the facility.

The criminal lawyers immediately took court action to have their visiting privileges re-instated. Lawyer Austin Cooper said that while he understands why officers are concerned after the recent arrests of three Toronto defence lawyers for drug smuggling at the jail, the right to counsel is vital.

But Local 530 president Chris Croisier says that the health and welfare of staff comes first.

“The amount of drugs and tobacco coming in puts our members at risk,” Croisier said. “For anybody who has ever seen how badly these inmates can tear up a place when they're on drugs… believe me, it's dangerous.”

On November 15, Justice Michael Dambrot ruled that management must permit criminal lawyers to meet face to face with their clients. But Crosier says that the procedures that have been put in place will not solve the problem.

“We now have all sorts of policies and procedures to deal with lawyer visits,” Crosier said. “For example, inmates are now to be strip searched before and after each lawyer visit, and lawyers are to be scanned by a metal detector prior to entering the jail. There’s just one slight problem: We don’t have enough staff to follow the procedures laid down by management. What good is a health and safety protocol if we can’t properly implement it?”

“Accountability for ensuring our workplaces are safe falls squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security,” said Barry Scanlon, chair of the OPSEU Corrections Ministry Employee Relations Committee. “The vast majority of criminal lawyers are honest, law-abiding professionals. If additional staffing and resources are needed to protect the staff at our jails, the ministry must act immediately to address this. The Ministry created the atmosphere for these types of problems to occur. It’s time they took the responsibility.”

This problem remains an issue at the Toronto Jail. We will wait to see what the final outcome is, and we are watching to see whether this issue rears its head at other facilities.

Agreement reached on Unclassified Contracts through Systemic Change

An agreement signed November 7, 2002 at a Systemic Change grievance mediation reads as follows:

“Unclassified contracts are currently six months and are renewed as a matter of course unless there is a reason not to. The Ministry will provide twelve month annual contracts beginning at the end of the first six-month contract provided that a twelve-month contract is consistent with the ministry’s anticipated requirements of the facility concerned.”

“An example of an exception to a 12 month unclassified contract would be at a facility which was definitely scheduled to close within the period of the twelve month contract,” said Barry Scanlon, chair of the OPSEU Corrections Ministry Employee Relations Committee. “12 month contracts for unclassified employees across the province will now become the norm.”

For text of the full agreement, please click here.

Union welcomes inquiry at TYAC

OPSEU Press Release, November 28, 2002

The union representing Ontario’s 5,000 front-line correctional workers welcomes an inquiry into conditions at the Toronto Youth Assessment Centre (TYAC).

A Globe and Mail report yesterday quoted a judge who cited conditions in the facility as “hellish,” referring to frequent beating of youths by other youths held in the jail.

“Our hands are tied,” said Dave Graves, elected vice-chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division and a correctional officer at the facility. “We’re overcrowded, understaffed and our complaints about the problems inside the facility have consistently fallen on deaf ears.”

The Toronto Youth Assessment building was originally constructed to hold adults awaiting trial. The facility was never intended to hold young offenders.

“There is very little programming for the offenders, so most of the time they sit in their cells or stand outside in a small, enclosed concrete yard,” Graves said. “There aren’t any positive channels for their frustration and aggression, so it manifests into violence. Our officers are constantly responding to fights; so many that we can’t handle them all at once. It’s reached the point where our authority is being ignored by the youths, because there is very little deterrent for them to behave.”

Barry Scanlon, chair of the OPSEU Corrections Ministry Employee Relations Committee, said that these types of incidents were predicted when the Ministry began restructuring its jails.

“When the youths were at Toronto West Detention, they at least had programming and a facility more conducive to rehabilitation,” Scanlon said. “We told the Ministry six years ago that moving youths to TYAC would lead to violence. They didn’t listen. Conditions inside our adult facilities are equally horrendous, and still the Ministry doesn’t listen. We welcome any inquiry that will seek to improve conditions, both for those incarcerated in our system, and for officers who are desperately trying do their jobs.”

For campaign information, call Don Ford (ext. 442) at 1-800-268-7376 or (416) 443-8888.

e-mail: dford@opseu.org

Ontario Public Service Employees Union
100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8
www.opseu.org

Original authorized for distribution by Leah Casselman, president.

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Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 100 Lesmill Rd. Toronto, ON M3B 3P8  (416) 443-8888  www.opseu.org