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Ontario Public Service

Corrections Division LockTalk, December 9, 2008

Auditor’s report an insult to corrections

The report released on Dec. 8, 2008 by Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter had a lot to say about how corrections are run in this province. And for the correctional officers who are on the front lines day in and day out, a lot of the report was extremely insulting.

McCarter went into great detail on the use of sick time by correctional officers, or more specifically, the abuse of sick time. How did McCarter conclude that sick time was being abused? Because senior Ministry officials and managers told him so. Did he bother to ask these officials what front-line managers sick time is like? If so, he seemed to leave that out of his findings.

The report generated a lot of media activity, and reporters were lining up to “get the goods” on these sick-time abusing correctional officers. However, they quickly calmed down after they were told a few corrections facts of life.

For over 10 years, OPSEU has been telling the Ministry that working conditions and overcrowding in our facilities were unbearable. Stress levels were bad and growing worse. Staff are continuously being assaulted; inmates are assaulting each other. Mentally ill inmates are warehoused in jails when they should be in hospitals. Judges give prisoners “3 for 1” credit for time served due to bad jail conditions. And most of the problem was due to there not being enough beds in the system as well as high inmate to staff ratios, where the norm is 20 to 35 inmates per officer.

How has the Ministry and the government responded? By removing even more beds from the system. Now, somehow they seem shocked that the problems are getting worse, problems they created themselves.

Eddy Almeida, Corrections MERC Chair, did media interviews the day the report was released. He is disgusted and disappointed with how his members are being portrayed and being attacked…again.

“We have been fighting bad working conditions for as long as I can remember,” Almeida said. “Our facilities are always overcrowded; a fact the Auditor General makes quite clear. But all the Ministry does is what the Ministry does best…blame the very workers who hold the system together with little to no support. Our members walk into their facilities with the knowledge that there is a potential to be attacked. They shouldn’t have to expect attacks from the very public officials that represent the people correctional officers keep safe.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says that correctional officers at the very least deserve an apology.

“The Minister should apologize to the officers for allowing the conditions in the jail to fester for so long, and thank each and every one of them for the remarkable job they do 24 hours a day,” Thomas said. “There are very few people in this province who would willingly do a correctional officers job. The Ministry and the public are in these officers’ debt.”

Both Thomas and Almeida encourage the local executives and members to call their MPPs and other public officials and invite them to come and spend some time with the front-line workers. “Let them see for themselves what is happening behind the walls,” Almeida said. “If they have an understanding of what officers must deal with each and every day, then maybe they will have a better appreciation and respect for the difficult services our members provide for the public.”

Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8

Original authorized for distribution by Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president and Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, MCSCS MERC Chair.