London – Treasury Board President Deb Matthews has thus far refused to budge on emergency funding to ease the overcrowding and understaffing problems that plague Ontario’s jail system.
That was the message she delivered to OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas today after the two of them spent almost three hours touring the troubled Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) in London.
“Did she commit to spending more to address the overcrowding and understaffing issues?” Thomas told reporters after the tour. “No.”
“Will we maintain the pressure on her to do so? Absolutely.”
“The crisis in corrections still persists. I had been hopeful that today’s meeting and tour would have triggered a change by the minister. I made it clear to her that we would be relentless in our bid to ensure that money is found to eliminate the crisis in corrections,” said Thomas.
OPSEU represents more than 6,000 correctional officers and probation and parole personnel in the province.
As president of Treasury Board, Matthews has the authority to recommend to cabinet emergency funding when a crisis emerges in the province. OPSEU has called on her to commit $100 million to ease a host of problems that plague Ontario’s jail system, including overcrowding, understaffing, and rehabilitative programs for inmates with mental health disabilities and substance abuse issues. Correctional officers are also demanding improvements to their training processes, tougher safety regulations and upgrades to the system’s crumbling physical infrastructure. No new money was committed in last week’s budget.
Thomas said Matthews acknowledged that labour relations at EMDC had seriously deteriorated and that she would work to make improvements. The executive of OPSEU Local 108 has resigned in protest over management tactics against union leaders. “Of the 500 contracts we negotiate, I’d say labour relations at EMDC are the absolute worst,” said Thomas.
Thomas and Matthews were joined on the tour by representatives from the local Elizabeth Fry Society and John Howard Society. He paid tribute to them for telling Matthews that problems inside the jail begin in the community outside the security gates.
“Not enough attention is being paid to the ‘human infrastructure’ problems that start outside the criminal justice system,” said Thomas. “On this, Ms Matthews seemed to agree that it’s a problem that needs much more attention.”
For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931
Related: Crisis In Corrections Index Page