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Canada: MTC one year later ... Part 2

"Fighting for his rights"
Published in the Midland Free Press
January 7, 2003
By Margaret Bruineman
Used with permission.

Part 2
Former Inmate's cry for justice is the latest in the long list of complaints against the Penetanguishene Super Jail.

The lobe of John Kolakowski's left ear lay in a freezer at Penetanguishene's new Super Jail for three months before it was
finally thrown away. The ear, severed during a struggle with another inmate, has become the subject of a lawsuit against the
year-old Central North Correctional Centre. Kolakowski charges that jail officials did nothing to prevent a scuffle from
escalating into a fight, ultimately ending with Kolakowski's assailant biting off one-third of his ear.

Kolakowski's complaint is one of a growing list. A great many focus on the lack of attention to health concerns.

There are charges that inmates are left to suffer such serious consequences from ill health, their treatment is tantamount to
inhumane. There have been complaints to the Ontario College of Nurses over treatment there, as well as the Ombudsman's

A Barrie lawyer says it's not acceptable. The absence of medical attention in the jail violates basic rights.

"I'm investigating potential breaches of Section 7 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms due to the treatment, or lack
of medical treatment, in the Super Jail," said Bernard Keating.

He has issued five notices of intent to sue the provincial government and Management Training Corporation, three dealing
with concerns over health.

Lawyer Ben Fendchuk told a Barrie court recently that the jail's staff lack of concern over medical issues "is nothing short of
scandalous." And his efforts to involve a judge to prompt treatment failed.

His client, Donald Stewart, became ill while in the regular unit of the jail, he said. Requests for medical attention for what may
have been a serious flu went ignored for the Hells Angel motorcycle club member who was convicted of extortion. Fendchuk
said he even had a Barrie judge recommend the man get medical attention through an endorsement on the warrant. The inmate,
he said, never did see a doctor or a nurse.

"They're probably working with a skeleton of medical staff," said Fendchuk, who questions if privatization plays a role in the
service level. "It's not going to get better, it's going to get worse."

The jail managers, Management Training Corporation, sub-contracts health services, education and food services to other
organizations. First Correctional Medical takes care of the medical issues in the jail.

The seven-year-old company, based in Tucson, Arizona, provides medical services in both public and private correctional
facilities in the United Sates.

Further information about the company was not available, despite requests to First Correctional Medical, Management and
Training Corporation and the provincial corrections ministry.

Brian Low, of the provincial corrections ministry, says those contracts are all approved by the provincial government and
MTC is held accountable for those services.

"If there is an inmate that has a complaint or concern then that complaint can be made in a variety of ways," said Low.

Low acknowledged some complaints have been founded, although he wouldn't say what they were. He said if a problem is
identified routines at the jail change.

Jail superintendent Doug Thomson said every inmate is assessed upon arrival to determine medical needs. He said there is a
full complement of medical staff, but inmates are treated differently in Penetanguishene. They don't see a doctor immediately
and the institution relies more heavily on nurses.

"The medical people are making the medical decision in terms of setting priorities," he said. Thomson said he has found little
validity in many complaints.

"Pus Seeped From Infection" - Health concerns among criticisms of Super Jail

Jail officials won't say specifically what medical services are provided, the number of medical staff working at the jail or the
hours they are there. Superintendent Doug Thompson said the coverage is considered adequate.

Two Barrie moms beg to differ.

Sharon Storring and Debbie Abbott have both launched a volley of complaints against the jail. They say the health of their
sons, who are both in the jail awaiting trial, has been compromised.

On Ryan Skillen's sixth day in Penetanguishene's Super Jail, a nurse removed bandages from his hand to reveal a swollen and
infected wound.

Because of his frail medical condition Skillen was lodged in the jail's medical unit for his entire month stay. Yet requests for
daily bandage replacements on his recently-operated hand fell on deaf ears. When he finally got fresh bandages, puss was
seeping out from under some of the 78 stitches and parts were red and swollen.

"They had to put me on antibiotics after that," said Skillen, . Skillen lost the middle and index fingers on his left hand when a
bomb he is accused of making went off in Barrie. Surgeons at St. Joseph's Hospital in London worked frantically to save his
thumb. And then he was sent directly to jail.

The protective bandages were to be changed daily and his hand, being held together with pins, was to be elevated. Skillen
said despite regular requests jail staff continually postponed changing the bandages. After they finally were changed Skillen
submitted written requests, yet the bandages were changed only once every two days.

The lack of attention to Skillen's wounds, ignored requests to tend to his bipolar disorder, or manic depression which
worsened in jail, and a missed follow-up appointment have prompted complaints to the Ontario College of Nurses and the
Ontario ombudsman.

Abbott says her son has had repeated problems after a mild concussion he suffered before going to jail went unattended.

There were migraines followed by a seizure while on the phone talking to her. Michael Abbott, said his mother, was then
returned to his cell with an ice pack. He was later taken to the Midland hospital. A missed CT scan was eventually done three
weeks later.

"They said at the hospital he could have seizures the rest of his life," she said.

Other advocates for inmates report problems, most of them health related. Paula King, executive director of the Simcoe
County Elizabeth Fry Society and Liberal corrections' critic, David Levac, have both describe "major concerns" at the jail.

The public, they add, is largely unsympathetic to the worries of the inmates. Health care is an afterthought in Canadian jails,
said Dr. Wendy Wobeser, a Queen's University infectious disease professor, who recently completed a study on inmate deaths
in federal prisons. "A body whose primary motivation is to incarcerate is also the one who provides health care," she said.
"Prisons are a high-risk for diseases that can be transferred... to the community as a whole."

Wobeser says health care should be a primary concern because the incidence of death and illness is much higher in jail than
in the general public. Jails serve as a sort of breeding ground for disease that is bound to spill over into the community. There
are no standards or an external body that accredits health care in federal or provincial jails like in hospitals.

She also suggests that health care in the Penetanguishene jail be monitored to ensure the service provided by an American
company follow Canadian standards.

Wobeser, and her colleague, Dr. Peter Ford, recently completed a study showing that men in jail died at a much higher rate
than men in the general public.

When the provincial government announced the new jail would be privatized Sharon Dion let her voice be heard. Now she
heads Citizens Against Private Prisons.

She argues that people should care about what goes on in the jail because it could ultimately affect the community. And she
points to September's uprising. Officials have revealed little about Sept. 19 because it remains under investigation, although
charges are expected.

"The riot is an indication that something is wrong," said Dion, who has been trying to keep track of the concerns.

Inmates were locked in their cells 23 hours per day. A partial lock-down continues three months later, she said.

There are worries in the community that the design of the building came into play in the uprising. And there were reports that
some inmates were one door away from escaping the facility. None of this has been confirmed by officials.

Kolakowski, like many other men serving time last spring, was transferred to the Central North Correctional Centre during
the province-wide civil service workers strike. He had been sentenced to 90 days and was serving his time in Windsor.

Kolakowski said he got into an argument with another man about the volume of the television in a common area in clear view
of a staff member. The fight, he said, went on for more than 15 minutes without intervention by jail staff.

He suggests there simply weren't enough guards on hand. And there are not enough accessible panic buttons on all the
ranges in the jail.

Kolakowski said the fact that he was in jail convicted of a criminal offence should not preclude his right to be free of bodily
harm. The public, he says, shouldn't be the only ones to be kept safe.

Kolakowski's lawyer Peter Fallis says those who live around the jail may be safe, but those inside are not.

"The present private system operates without the safety of the inmate in mind," said Fallis. "The lives of people presently
incarcerated, and those who will be incarcerated in the future, are at risk."

Kolakowski's statement of claim charges that a private operator risks the level of care and standard of treatment and security
of the inmates.

And he charges there are no "adequate provision for the proper training of MTC Canada staff to be able to deal with
encounters between inmates in a quick and effective manner so as to arrest and stop such incidents from occurring."

Go to Part 1 of series

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