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Segregation review more window-dressing than substance: OPSEU

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is reacting with skepticism to today’s announcement by Corrections Minister David Orazietti that he will appoint an external reviewer to look into the use of segregation in Ontario’s adult correctional facilities.

Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division, says that what the ministry wants to “investigate” is already common knowledge to correctional staff. The crux of the problem lies with a lack of resources, he said.

“We’ve been telling the government for years that we need more space. We’ve been calling for more money and resources for mental health care, because these people should have appropriate treatment – not spend more time in jail.

“They don’t need an independent review to tell them all that,” said Vieselmeyer, a correctional officer at the Toronto South Detention Centre. “We’ve told them, and we’ve been ignored. But now the government’s feeling the heat from community groups. They want to look like they’re doing something, when in fact they’re trying to hide years of neglect.”

There are four main reasons why inmates are segregated, Vieselmeyer said: mental health issues, health issues, administrative reasons, and disciplinary reasons.

“The government has focused entirely on disciplinary reasons, which are actually the least common use of segregation,” he said. “In reality, we simply don’t have the space to keep inmates segregated for long periods for disciplinary causes. Most segregation cells are occupied by inmates there for other causes. A disciplinary sentence will typically be reduced so someone else can be disciplined, thereby creating a revolving door. The whole thing about keeping segregation shorter than 15 days is a red herring.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the review could be useful if it finally makes the government listen to frontline correctional staff and gives correctional officers the means to do their jobs properly.

“But after years of starving our corrections and mental health systems, we need more action than talk – sustained, substantial investment to build infrastructure and hire more staff. Making regulations is easy, but when they’re impossible to enforce, it’s just wishful thinking. And I think it’s time to stop wishing and start doing.”

For more information: Monte Vieselmeyer, 705-627-1942

Related: Crisis In Corrections index page