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Jail overcrowding and light sentencing are putting public safety at risk

The union representing Ontario correctional workers has called for an immediate and thorough examination of what’s happening in the overcrowded provincial correctional system and its effects on the health and safety of correctional service workers.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, called on the McGuinty government to strike a task force to recommend ways to improve the jail system.

“Workers in the justice system are risking their lives and health every day,” said Thomas, who toured the Toronto Don Jail last week with NDP Leader Howard Hampton. “The living conditions are appalling, with hundreds of inmates crowded into small unventilated spaces rife with communicable diseases.

“Our jails have also become hotbeds of gang activity,” said Thomas.

Ontario’s overcrowded jails have become so notorious that judges regularly apply a “three-for-one” credit, shortening sentences in proportion to the amount of time offenders have spent awaiting trial, particularly in the three large detention centres in Toronto.

Probation and Parole Officers are then forced to supervise hundreds of dangerous offenders released early into the community, a huge public safety issue as gang warfare escalates.

Thomas said the task force should examine living conditions for inmates and working conditions for Correctional Officers and Probation and Parole Officers, and propose ways to alleviate the problems.

The task force should examine:

  • Overcrowding and its effects on inmates and correctional staff;
  • The physical conditions of provincial facilities;
  • Reinstituting programs for inmates, many of which were cut by the Mike Harris regime;
  • Training for staff on communicable disease control and identification of gang activity.

“We’ve been working with this system for years and the problems just seem to get bigger,” Thomas said. “It’s time we had an independent review of what can be done.”