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Systemic issues overlooked in EMDC report: correctional staff

Toronto – A recent CBC story on inmate deaths at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) in London overlooked the systemic issues that caused them, the union representing Ontario correctional officers says.

“It’s not news that Ontario’s jails are violent places where violent incidents occur,” said Monte Vieselmeyer, co-chair of the Corrections ministry employee relations committee for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “But these incidents don’t just come out of nowhere. What would help make correctional facilities safer is news coverage that helped educate the public, and our politicians, about the ways in which the system is programmed to fail, no matter how hard individual staff members work to make it succeed.”

OPSEU has drawn attention to problems in Corrections for decades but stepped up its “Crisis in Corrections” campaign in 2015. Since then, the system has seen riots, correctional officers taken hostage, violent attacks on staff and inmates alike, and inmate deaths.

“We have a crisis in Corrections because offenders with mental health and addiction problems can’t get treatment,” Vieselmeyer said. “We have a crisis because we lack proper staffing and programming. We have a crisis because of bad infrastructure and outrageous levels of overcrowding in our jails. We have a crisis because of inmates overdosing on opioids and other drugs.

“We have said all along that this crisis is unsustainable, but sometimes I think people don’t know what that word means,” he said. “It doesn’t just mean things are going to fall apart some day. In this case, it means things are falling apart now.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the union appreciated that Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde “stood up for staff” in her comments to the CBC’s Fifth Estate. But the crisis in Corrections will only be fixed when it becomes an issue for the whole provincial government, he added.

“The current crisis is a life-and-death crisis that will never be solved by moving a handful of dollars around inside the Corrections ministry,” Thomas said. “This requires the attention of Cabinet, the Minister of Finance, and the Premier to bring the full resources of government to bear on the problem. Correctional staff perform their duties professionally every day of the year, but they must have the appropriate supports.”

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