Honouring correctional workers during Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week 2023

Every first week of May is Correctional Services Staff Recognition Week – a time when we take the opportunity to highlight and recognize the dedicated correctional staff who work in correctional institutions, youth facilities, probation and parole, and youth probation.

Correctional workers include correctional officers, probation and parole officers, youth services officers and youth probation officers, nurses, social workers, recreational staff, administrative staff, kitchen staff, cleaning and maintenance staff and many others.

OPSEU/SEFPO correctional workers chose careers in corrections and youth justice to help adults and children in conflict with the law, and to keep our communities safe. They know that safe communities include strong supports for those who need it most – which is why, every year, correctional workers hold Corrections Cares events in communities across the province, to raise money for local charities.

Remembering the fallen

At a ceremony of remembrance held at the Correctional Workers’ Monument in Toronto on May 4, OPSEU/SEFPO Correctional Bargaining Unit leaders, President JP Hornick and First Vice-President Treasurer Laurie Nancekivell honoured correctional workers who have lost their lives on the job. Solicitor General Michael Kerzner and ministry officials were also present to pay their respects.

Group picture of Correctional Bargaining Unit leaders standing with President JP Hornick and 1st VP/Treasurer Laurie Nancekivell in front of the Correctional Workers' Monument with a blue memorial wreath

Chad Oldfield, Chair of the Corrections Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC) hosted the event. Janet Laverty, Vice-Chair of the Corrections MERC read the names of fallen correctional workers from the honour roll, and Peter Figliola, Corrections MERC member, read the Correctional Officer Prayer.

Addressing the gathering, Hornick paid tribute to fallen correctional workers. “[Correctional workers] are dedicated professionals who put [their] lives at risk every day doing courageous work under difficult conditions. The correctional workers we are remembering today who died at work have the same kind of dedication that all of you have – and they made a sacrifice no one should have to make.”

Hornick stated that death, injuries and violence should never be considered “part of the job” in any workplace, including corrections and youth justice.

“Part of honouring the lives of our fellow members who have fallen on the job is doing everything possible to make correctional workplaces safe,” said Hornick. “Correctional workplace deaths and injuries are preventable.”

President JP Hornick addresses the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance 2023

Corrections MERC Chair Chad Oldfield hosts and addresses the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance 2023

Corrections MERC Vice-Chair addresses the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance 2023

Peter Figliola addresses the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance 2023

A crowd of people stand outside at the Correctional Services Ceremony of Remembrance 2023

The Crisis in Corrections continues

OPSEU/SEFPO has been sounding the alarm on the crisis in corrections for many years – and that crisis continues throughout the corrections and youth justice systems.

Understaffing, inadequate training, precarious, temporary employment and outdated infrastructure leads to violence, overcrowding, lockdowns, segregation, mental health and addictions crises and recidivism.

In March 2023, correctional workers took their concerns to Queen’s Park, where they lobbied MPPs from all parties to fix the crisis in corrections. They called for more staff, including correctional officers, probation and parole officers, nurses, psychologists, mental health and addictions specialists, recreational and programming staff, youth services and probation staff.

Probation and Parole members delivered hundreds of petitions to Queen’s Park, demanding that the Ford government address the staffing crisis in community corrections.

A key way to address the understaffing crisis in corrections is to bargain fair wages with OPSEU/SEFPO to attract and retain staff in those positions. Bill 124, the provincial legislation that imposed three years of wage cuts on public service workers during record inflation, was struck down in December 2022. The Correctional Bargaining Unit negotiations continue. In April 2023, mediation talks broke down, and arbitration is now set for July 25, 2023.

Correctional workers are also calling for modernized infrastructure. That means updating institutional buildings to support health care and programming, and to ease overcrowding. It means keeping youth centres open in their communities, instead of closing them and forcing young people hours away from their community supports. It means equipping probation and parole offices to keep everyone safe.

Correctional workers want to see accountability from top decision-makers who make policies that are out-of-step with operational realities on the ground, and to work with the union to address systemic problems, including the recommendations outlined in the Chief Coroner’s report, An Obligation to Prevent. The Correctional Bargaining Unit supports those recommendations and is committed to working with the Ministry to see them implemented.