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Government must stop adding fuel to crisis in Corrections: OPSEU president

TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government must stop adding fuel to the crisis burning in the province’s correctional services, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.

“Two weeks ago, I went down to Queen’s Park to explain, in detail, the crisis our provincial correctional system is facing,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. “Our jails are overcrowded, understaffed, and increasingly violent. Our Probation and Parole Officers have the highest caseloads in Canada.

“Yet instead of moving quickly to bring in staff reinforcements, improve mental health care, and reduce jail overcrowding to ease tensions, this government has deliberately ramped them up,” he said. “And now, as correctional staff vote on a tentative collective agreement that holds back their wages, news reports are telling us correctional managers are getting wage hikes of up to six per cent.

“This is not the way to fix a broken system, this is a way to blow it up,” Thomas said. “This government is being deliberately disrespectful and inflammatory at a time when we need it to be respectful and constructive.

“They are underestimating the danger,” he said. “There is a very real chance that someone will die.”

Thomas made the remarks following a riot at the Thunder Bay District Jail that saw one correctional officer taken hostage and beaten by inmates. Days ago, inmates rioted at the Toronto South Detention Centre, setting fires and causing a flood. Five Correctional Officers went to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

“This government talks of ‘modernizing’ Corrections, but they seem to forget that the first principle of correctional services is safety,” Thomas said. “The whole purpose of the system is to keep the public safe, to keep staff safe, and to keep inmates safe.

“Right now, this government is failing on all three counts. I am asking all MPPs, of every political stripe, to get up to speed on this and work with us to save correctional services.”

The union will launch a radio ad campaign in the coming days to inform the public of the crisis and urge MPPs to get involved. The first ad is available here.

OPSEU represents some 6,000 correctional staff in provincial correctional facilities and probation offices.

For more information:
Warren (Smokey) Thomas (613) 329-1931