TORONTO – In a meeting today with the union that represents more than 6,000 correctional workers and parole and probation staff, the minister for Community Safety and Correctional Services agreed that Ontario faces a crisis inside its jails.
“Today’s meeting with Yasir Naqvi was productive,” said Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas following a labour-management meeting called to address the province’s problem-plagued jails
“I can’t remember the last time I met with a cabinet minister who bluntly acknowledged there were serious problems in their ministry that needed fixing. Today, we finally heard that.”
The two sides agreed to form a working group to examine just how badly Ontario’s correctional system has failed inmates and frontline staff alike. Thomas told the minister that $100 million must be earmarked in the upcoming spring budget to address the problems of overcrowding and understaffing, as well as to improve training and make badly-needed repairs to the infrastructure of many facilities.
“Since December I have toured more than a half dozen detention centres around the province and what I’ve seen isn’t pretty,” said Thomas. “We know these places are overcrowded and understaffed and that needs immediate fixing. They’re also filthy, unhygienic and physically damaged. These are the working conditions that our members face every day on the job.”
Thomas also noted the correctional system fails to provide rehabilitative programs that would start to address the social and economic problems inmates have and that, for many, lead them into a life of criminal activity.
He said that because problems inside Ontario’s jails are so deeply entrenched any future solution must include input from the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the Ministry of Health.
Experts in mental health and substance abuse must also have a seat at the table, Thomas said. Ontario’s jail system finds itself increasingly over populated with inmates with addiction and mental health issues that go untreated inside the facilities.
The OPSEU president said he was also pleased to learn at today’s meeting that the Wynne government has no plans to privatize correctional services.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Related: Crisis In Corrections Index Page