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OPSEU/SEFPO supports Chief Coroner’s recommendations for reform in correctional institutions

For immediate release

TORONTO – OPSEU/SEFPO welcomes the report of the Chief Coroner’s Expert Panel on Deaths in Custody – “An Obligation to Prevent” – and supports the implementation of their recommendations.

“We applaud the challenging work the expert panel did to review the circumstances of deaths in custody and speak with impacted families and correctional workers,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick.

“The Chief Coroner’s report echoes so much of what the union has been saying for years,” said Chad Oldfield, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Corrections Division. “I think it’s notable that the report calls for the Ministry to work with frontline workers and their union to address the crisis in correctional institutions.”

Oldfield and Ryan Graham, Provincial Health and Safety Committee Co-Chair, sent a letter to Deputy Solicitor General Karen Ellis last week, requesting a meeting to discuss how the union and Ministry can work collaboratively to implement the Chief Coroner’s recommendations.

The Chief Coroner’s report describes many aspects of the crisis in corrections that OPSEU/SEFPO’s Correctional Bargaining Unit has been sounding the alarm on for many years including the following:

  • The dismantling of the social safety net has led to an increase in incarcerations for people with complex needs that the correctional system is not designed to address.
  • Recruitment and retention problems caused by uncompetitive wages has created drastic understaffing levels in all areas of correctional institutions.
  • The Ministry’s outdated employment model using contract staff contributes to stressful and unhealthy working conditions for employees and impacts the living conditions for incarcerated people. Eliminating the use of contract Correctional Officers by hiring them permanently full-time would start to address these issues.
  • High numbers of lockdowns could be resolved by increased staffing.
  • The inability to recruit nurse practitioners, registered nurses, mental health nurses and psychologists as well as clinical and programming staff is leading to growing gaps in basic health care for incarcerated people.
  • The Ministry has refused to support OPSEU/SEFPO’s recommendation to allow Correctional Officers to carry Naloxone kits, as also recommended by the Chief Coronor’s report.
  • Improvements to training and staff development are urgently needed. OPSEU/SEFPO has called for a longer training period than 8 weeks for Correctional Officers; increased training on mental health and addictions issues; input into the current training for new recruits; and has opposed the first four weeks of Correctional Officer training being facilitated by a third-party vendor.
  • Outdated infrastructure built to warehouse incarcerated people is out of step with the goal of rehabilitation. Investment in infrastructure and technology is needed to reduce overcrowding and to provide adequate programming, health care, tracking systems, and to maintain community connections.
  • No decision-makers are held responsible for preventable tragedies and policies that are out-of-step with operational realities; instead, blame is shifted to front-line workers who have no say and no power over the systemic problems that create those conditions.

“It’s time for the Ministry to work collaboratively with OPSEU/SEFPO to improve the conditions of correctional institutions,” said Oldfield. “I hope Deputy Solicitor General Ellis will make it a top priority to meet with us so we can start the process.”

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Media contacts:

Chad Oldfield, OPSEU/SEFPO Co-Chair, Ministry of the Solicitor General Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC), 905-399-1222

JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President, 416-806-9526