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Corrections transformation bill ‘a good start’: OPSEU

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is expressing cautious optimism with the introduction today of legislation to transform the province’s correctional system.

The bill was introduced by Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde. It comes in response to years of pressure from OPSEU, which has consistently and urgently warned of the mounting crisis in corrections – one the government has largely ignored, until now.

“We’ve done everything possible to make the government recognize the crisis in corrections and take immediate steps to alleviate it,” said correctional division chair Monte Vieselmeyer. “The government finally agreed the system was in crisis and required a complete overhaul.

“However, we remain extremely concerned that the safety of frontline staff has not been clearly addressed in the bill,” he continued. “The government has promised that no transformation can succeed without continuous feedback from staff. So we know they’ll hear again and again about the vital need for significantly improved safety and security.”

Vieselmeyer said dangerously low staffing levels greatly increased risks to safety. “The government claims it’s hired 1,100 new correctional officers. But they’re fixed-term officers who fill in when regular officers are away. In reality, only 24 new correctional officers positions have been created.”

The bill addresses a number of corrections-related issues, including segregation. Vieselmeyer said correctional officers were still awaiting alternatives to segregation. “If the government wants to address segregation, they need to provide alternatives for the various reasons it’s currently used. One inmate to one cell would solve the problem. In light of Canadian case law, we need answers.”

Describing the bill as a “pre-election conversion,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said it shows the government has finally acknowledged that the system is broken and in desperate need of resourcing and rebuilding. “We’ll be looking at March’s budget to ensure the cash is there to fund this transformation. We’ll also be keeping an eye on timelines. New infrastructure must be built right now – not in 10 or 15 years.

“Beyond that, I’m particularly glad to see the government acknowledging that its public-private partnerships in building and running jails have been utter failures and costly disasters. The same can be said about its other failed P3 projects. It’s time to stop putting taxpayers’ dollars into developers’ pockets and ensure public infrastructure is built using public workers and public knowhow.”

For more information: Monte Vieselmeyer, 705-627-1942