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OPSEU President slams Liberals over crisis in correctional services

TORONTO – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas slammed the Liberal government today for its utter failure to address the crisis engulfing Ontario’s correctional services. At a press conference this morning, Thomas said the province’s jails are ”overcrowded, underfunded and dangerously volatile.”

Overcrowding has become acute, leading to mounting tensions and increasing violence. In 2013, there were 855 assaults on correctional staff and 3,000 offender-on-offender assaults – up 23 per cent over five years. “When two, three and even four inmates are crammed into tiny cages built for one, you’re sitting on a powder keg,” warned Thomas.

Monte Vieselmeyer, Chair of the OPSEU Corrections Division, added that the inmate population has increased, even as the number of correctional staff has fallen. “In 2010, the Liberal government slapped a three-year freeze on hiring. The severe staffing shortage means record numbers of lockdowns to protect inmates and staff. We’re short 850 officers. The government has hired 22 this year.

“Meanwhile, probation and parole officers are grappling with the highest caseloads in Canada.”

The situation is aggravated by an increasing number of inmates who struggle with mental health and addictions issues, Thomas said. Deprived of necessary community supports, many end up in solitary confinement – the worst possible place for them.

“The Liberals are more concerned about corporate welfare than the welfare of our correctional workers and our most vulnerable citizens,” said Thomas. “Our jails have become the mental health system of last resort. These folks need medical care, not incarceration.”

Thomas called for “immediate and meaningful action” from the provincial government. “Correctional services staff have a right to a secure workplace. Inmates have a right to a safe living environment. People with mental health issues have a right to help. The people of Ontario have a right to safe neighbourhoods. It’s high time Kathleen Wynne and Yasir Naqvi left their cocktail parties and got down to fixing the province’s broken correctional services system.”

For more information:

Monte Vieselmeyer
Chair, Corrections Division, OPSEU

Related: OPS Bargaining 2014 Index Page