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OPSEU welcomes Sapers report on use of segregation

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) says it is “encouraged” by the recommendations in today’s report on the use of segregation in Ontario jails, calling it “a useful guide to addressing part of the crisis in corrections in this province.”

The report by independent adviser Howard Sapers calls on the Ontario government to bring the use of segregation in line with international standards, involve frontline staff in policy decisions, and put more money into the correctional system.

“When it comes to change, the report says it’s ‘critical’ that staff and OPSEU must be involved early and often,” said Monte Vieselmeyer, OPSEU co-chair of the Ministry Employee Relations Committee for Corrections. “We certainly agree, because until now the ministry has rarely, if ever, consulted with the people who know the system best: the workers on the front lines.”

Among his recommendations, Sapers calls on the government to replace jails in Ottawa and Thunder Bay and retrofit the Toronto South Detention Centre; build separate housing spaces to better accommodate the reasons for separating offenders from the general population; and hire more staff and provide better training, especially where segregation is concerned.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU, said “the ball is in the government’s court now. We’ve been recommending all these things for years now. We need to see the government move, and move quickly, on Mr. Sapers’ recommendations,” he said.

Thomas welcomed announcements today that the government will build the new jails in Ottawa and Thunder Bay. “But what about the other 26?” he asked. “As Mr. Sapers notes, most are over four decades old. Will the government use more public-private partnerships, like Toronto South Detention Centre? Because that was an out-and-out fiasco. Let’s build them right – the first time – by consulting frontline staff, not private interests more concerned about building their bottom line.”

However, Thomas expressed alarm over an announcement that the Corrections ministry was “exploring options to shift the oversight and provision of health care services from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.”

“There has been zero consultation on this proposal with frontline correctional nurses or their union,” Thomas said. “We’ll ensure that consultation happens now, because the problems in correctional health care have everything to do with a lack of resources. When the government moves resources to the front lines, the problems will go away. Just shuffling staff is pointless.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931