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Premier responsible for crisis in Corrections: OPSEU

(Thunder Bay) — After touring the site of a hostage taking inside a provincial correctional facility last week, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said responsibility for the disturbance that led to the violent incident rests squarely with premier Kathleen Wynne and her minister of correctional services.

"I witnessed today the aftermath of the disturbance and I'm more convinced than ever that this government bears full responsibility for the crisis washing over correctional facilities across Ontario," OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas told a group of more than 75 correctional officers and supporters outside the Thunder Bay District Jail. "The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services needs $100 million immediately to fix a badly broken system before the lives of correctional staff are put at greater risk."

Thomas was accompanied on the tour by Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs and Steve Small, the assistant deputy minister for correctional services. The trio, along with members of OPSEU Local 737 which represents correctional staff at the facility and the jail's superintendent, were escorted through the garbage-strewn fourth floor which was the site of a small riot on Dec. 7 in which a correctional officer was taken hostage by inmates. Superintendent Bill Wheeler described to the group the 12-hour seizure of the floor which included significant damage to property.

Thomas spoke to several correctional officers and support staff on his tour who told him that the facility is dangerously understaffed. Originally built almost a century ago to accommodate 50 inmates, the Thunder Bay jail today houses more than 150 with two and three inmates sharing cells.

The OPSEU president singled our correctional services minister Yasir Naqvi for his systemic incompetence and failure to address the grave problems confronting Ontario's correctional system.

"This is the worst ministry you could imagine," Thomas said. "I'm tired of hearing the minister say 'We've hired an additional 500 correctional officers.' Yes, they have. But what he doesn't say is that jail system lost 700 staff over the past year."

After the tour Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, a former correctional officer, told the crowd outside afterwards, "This jail needs to be torn down immediately and a modern facility must take its place." The community was promised a new correctional facility in 2002, but successive provincial governments have failed to deliver on the promise.

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas