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Jails staff near strike vote: Union, province meeting with conciliator

By Maria Calabrese
The North Bay Nugget - Fri 08 Feb 2002

Health and safety concerns, overcrowding and other issues at provincial jails have pushed employees to consider giving their union the mandate to call a strike vote.
"Whatever happens with the conciliator is going to decide when the strike vote takes place, but there is no strike right now," said Mike Bisaillon, Ontario Public Service Employees Union president for Local 616 representing corrections workers, administration staff and nurses at North Bay Jail. Bisaillon believes the meeting with the conciliator will occur within days. OPSEU, which represents 5,400 corrections workers in Ontario, surveyed 44 correctional facilities in Ontario last year and found the average number of sick days for jail guards jumped to 20 from 12 in 1995 -- the year Mike Harris's Tories were elected.
In an interview last April, responding to the union's concern over violence, disease and overcrowding in provincial jails, Corrections Minister Rob Sampson said conditions would improve as new facilities are built to alleviate overcrowding.

Ongoing labour unrest at the privatized super jail in Penetanguishene trickled into the city Thursday when North Bay Jail admitted a busload of 19 inmates. The inmates were supposed to be admitted to the $85-million Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene. However, a dozen experienced corrections officers, including its deputy superintendent, quit the super jail since it opened in November because of poor working conditions, said Toronto-based OPSEU spokesman Don Ford.

"Name an issue, and they're having a problem with it up there," Ford said of the workload, staffing shortages, shift schedules and a gag order forcing employees to not say anything about the facility.

"This job is dangerous enough as it is without having to worry that (they) have no place to voice a concern," Ford said.

The Nugget learned the prisoners were transferred from Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, currently in a lockdown position for unknown safety concerns. It isn't unusual for a provincial jail to admit transfers from other facilities, and North Bay has had to admit prisoners before to alleviate overcrowding in southern Ontario jails, said corrections ministry spokeswoman Julia Noonan.

"Metro areas around the province do have greater pressures with respect to capacities and, as a result of that -- this is not just today, but on an ongoing basis -- inmates are moved to other facilities that do have available bed space. North Bay Jail had the room to accommodate these inmates," Noonan said, adding the government chooses which inmates can be transferred to certain facilities.

The ministry closed four provincial jails at a loss of more than 500 jobs, and only 40 staff members were rehired at the non-unionized super jail, which is operating at half its 1,200-inmate capacity, Ford said. It's the only privately run adult jail in Canada, being operated by Management and Training Corporation of Utah.

The inmates, Ford said, were locked down from Friday to Sunday the last two weekends and have previously come close to rioting because of conditions in the jail.

Now, Ford said, the company is unable to attract qualified staff and is relying on electronics to monitor inmates, putting both employees and prisoners at risk because a camera can only watch someone being assaulted rather than preventing it.

The Central North Correction Centre superintendent's office did not respond to a request for an interview, and the corrections minister was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Liberal corrections critic David Levac said he has toured almost every provincial jail in the province and visited the super jail last week. He told The Nugget Thursday he didn't believe the administrator's claim the facility has a health and safety committee.

One door was "jimmied" open with a wooden peg, another was held open with a garbage can, a key-lock door was swung open to access the corridor and items were strewn in the hallways, Levac said.

"I didn't get a good feel about this one," he said of the tension among the inmates and staff. "In this job, mistakes cost lives, so you can't afford to play with that."

Based on his research, jails should be no larger than 500 inmates, Levac said, noting the turnover rate of corrections workers in Penetanguishene is 47 per cent, and the rate of escape is 32 per cent.

A super jail is planned at the site of North Bay Psychiatric Hospital on Highway 11, and Levac warned city council against accepting a privately run institution for the sake of construction jobs, employment at the jail and the taxes it generates.

The province flip-flopped on its promise to give Penetanguishene a publicly run facility, said Sharon Dion, chairwoman of Citizens Against Private Prisons, who lives near the jail.

Dion said the inmate population at the Penetanguishene super jail would, at maximum capacity, release about 4,000 inmates into the community of 8,000 people each year.

"That's pretty scary. I really feel the government did not clearly educate us on the impact of a super jail in someone's community," she said. "Research as well as you can, fight it as much as you can. Now that we know more about super jails . . . they should not exist. They're too big."
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Correctional officers refuse work due to possibility of drugs, weapons in jail

Canada News-Wire - Fri 08 Feb 2002

MILTON, ON, Feb. 8 /CNW/ - Correctional officers at Ontario's largest correctional facility have refused under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to commence duties due to the strong possibility of illegal drugs and weapons being concealed in the jail.

Staff at the Maplehurst Complex in Milton discovered that contraband items were being smuggled into the jail earlier this week, and notified the employer. Although the smuggling method has been addressed, staff have stopped work due to the employer's attempts to continue to run inmate programs prior to a full search of the jail being completed.

"At this point we have no idea what might be hidden in this jail," said Bill Yole, Local 234 health and safety co-chair at the facility. "We won't know until a complete search, using drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors, is completed. The presence of drugs and weapons in a maximum-security jail can be deadly." Yole is concerned that the employer's attempts to move inmates around the institution for professional visits and programs will make the task of removing the contraband almost impossible.

Inmates in the facility are currently locked in their cells, and there is no threat to public safety. "The safety of our staff and the inmates in our care is our highest priority," Yole said. "Our union is currently in bargaining to get better health and safety language in our contract. If we had it, we wouldn't have to rely on health and safety refusals to keep staff, inmates and the public safe." At this time Maplehurst Complex holds approximately 775 adult inmates. When construction is completed, the facility will house nearly 2,000 offenders.

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Jails will go private, says Witmer: PC leadership hopeful meets local officials

By Bruce Corcoran
The Chatham Daily News - Sat 09 Feb 2002
The Ministry of Correctional Services plans on privatizing its jails, says Tory cabinet minister and leadership hopeful Elizabeth Witmer.

The Minister of Environment stopped in Chatham Friday as part of her ongoing campaign to succeed Mike Harris as head of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and premier.

Witmer mentioned the privatization of jails while fielding questions from reporters.

"The Ministry of Corrections' goal is to privatize jails," she said, while explaining ways the province can improve efficiency and not resort to deficit spending.

Her statement appeared to deviate from government policy. Currently, the corrections ministry is only exploring the idea. When asked to clarify her statement, Witmer said: "One initiative is to privatize the jail system."

Rob Sampson, Minister of Correctional Services, would not comment on Witmer's statement, according to his spokeswoman Sandy Mangat. She said he does not comment on issues raised during the leadership race as Sampson is co-chairman of the leadership committee.

On the corrections ministry Web site, there is no mention of a definite plan to move to jail privatization.

On the site, Sampson stated: "We will also continue to build on the success of our public-private partnerships and work with partners to deliver correctional services throughout Ontario. Whether publicly or privately operated, all facilities will be required to meet the same high standards for safety and performance."

According to the ministry's 2001-2002 business plan, "the ministry will continue to seek out partnerships, both public and private, that will help to meet its goal of developing a safe, secure, efficient, effective and accountable correctional system.

Julia Noonan, a ministry spokeswoman, said privatization is under examination and is up and running on a test basis at the megajail in Penetanguishene.

"It is one of the initiatives being looked at and is underway in a couple of aspects," she said.

Witmer made the comments at The Capitol Theatre, where she was introduced to a small crowd by Mayor Diane Gagner. While the mayor told The Chatham Daily News she does not endorse any of the Tory leadership hopefuls, she said Witmer has always paid attention to Chatham-Kent.

"Minister Witmer is the only minister to make an effort prior to the leadership race to take the time to try to help us in Chatham-Kent," she said. "There were some cool relationships with the province in the past." While outlining her campaign platform, Witmer touched about her plan to eradicate the provincial debt and help alleviate the doctor shortage across the province.

Witmer believes the province must develop a human resources strategy to identify how many doctors and other medical professionals needed in the future to ensure a shortage doesn't happen again.

Increasing the number of nurse practitioners and finding ways to get foreign-trained doctors working in the province are needed. She said the province has a $110-billion debt, with interest payments of $8.7 billion annually -- the same amount the province spends on health care.

"Once we pay down that debt, we are going to have flexibility to provide services to the people of Ontario," Witmer said. Explaining how to target the debt and avoid adding to it led Witmer to the jails comment.

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Father 'Handcuffed During Heart Attack In Prison'

Antony Stone, PA News - February 8, 2002

A former inmate today alleged he was stripped naked and handcuffed by guards as he writhed in agony having a heart attack when he was in prison.

Former newsagent Nicholas Jones, 32, says he was treated worse than an animal by guards at the privately run Parc Prison, in Bridgend, south Wales.

The unemployed father of three from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire says he begged for help in the belief that he was dying but was ordered to strip before being rushed to hospital.

Prison guards insisted on cuffing both hands for the drive to the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, even though he had lost all feeling in one arm.

Now Mr Jones, who has made a full recovery from the heart attack, is demanding an apology and has consulted a solicitor with a view to making a claim for compensation.

The incident happened last July while he was still serving a two-year sentence for arson. He has only made a complaint since his release.

"The long and short of the story is that I thought I was going to die. The last thing I would have done is try to escape," said Mr Jones today.

"I rang my cell buzzer after I had these excruciating pains in the chest and was told by a nurse I had indigestion."

Hours later he was found collapsed in his cell by another prisoner and was taken to the prison medical centre.

He added: "It was still about 30 minutes before anyone decided to take me to hospital by which time I was having pains in my chest all over again.

"I honestly thought I was dying and I believe that by then I was having a second stroke.

"But the prison guards took me out to a car, stopping on the way to strip search me. I couldn't believe what was happening - it was a nightmare.

"They were more interested in following procedure than worry about me. An animal would have been treated more humanely.

"I was ordered to strip naked and afterwards driven to hospital in cuffs with a guard on either side.

"I suggested they should just cuff one hand but they insisted on cuffing both which meant I was in agony for the whole journey."

Parc Prison, which is the only private prison in Wales, is staffed and run by Securicor.

A spokeswoman for the prison said she was unable to comment on individual cases.

"But any prisoner who has to go to an external facility must undergo a strip search, that is Home Office policy," she said.

"Our main concern is the security and safety of the public and our staff.

"I understand the person in question has now been released. This happened in July of last year."

A spokesman for the Princess of Wales Hospital confirmed Mr Jones had suffered a heart attack and had spent more than a week in hospital recovering.

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Florida: Privatization is a bust.
Privatization Still Unproved - Friday, February 15, 2002

A guiding principle of the Jeb Bush administration is that privatization is the wave of the future, that the private sector can do pretty much anything government can do more efficiently and with better results.

Unfortunately, that assumption hasn't been backed by the evidence. The raw wounds of the 2000 elections are still too fresh to forget that it was a private contractor who made such a hash of Florida's voter-purge list. The great experiment in privatizing jails and prisons has been pretty much of a bust.

This week, one of Bush's fellow Republicans, Rep. Bill Andrews of Delray Beach, suggested that the spectacularly misnamed Occupational Access and Opportunity Commission -- the board created for the purpose of privatizing training programs for disabled adults -- be investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing. This follows state audits and reports that indicate conflicts of interest by commission members, much wasting of state dollars and few positive outcomes.

In other words, privatization to date remains more of an attractive theory than proven fact. Small wonder, then, that this week members of the Florida Senate forced Gov. Bush to give up on his plan -- at least for now -- to contract out the administration of the state's career-service system to an Ohio-based firm. Bush says doing so would save the state $20 million a year.

But senators wonder about the wisdom of the $40 million contract -- especially since Ruth Sykes, Bush's former "efficiency czar," resigned last year because she couldn't support the project.

"There seemed to be an emerging consensus that this proposal would be implemented on such a scale and in such a time frame as to raise legitimate concerns about the financial integrity and accountability of our critical governmental system," state Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, wrote to Department of Management Services Secretary Cynthia Henderson.

Given the decidedly mixed results of privatization thus far, it's easy to sympathize with Garcia's insistence that this latest wholesale contracting of a basic government function be thoroughly examined.

Along the same lines, but in another area of policymaking, it is worth wondering about Bush's assumption that textbook publishers are more qualified or better prepared than Florida's colleges of education to teach reading skills to teachers.

Bush is clearly unhappy with the job being done by the colleges to prepare teachers to teach. But his "unique partnership" with five textbook-publishing companies to provide instruction to teachers in districts that purchase their products is hardly a guarantee of improved quality. (That's even assuming that districts will have sufficient funding this year to buy new textbooks).

It is simply another article of faith that textbook companies can do what colleges of education -- where cutting-edge research is performed -- cannot.

Dorene D. Ross, interim director of the School of Teaching and Learning in the University of Florida College of Education, poses a good question when she asks what evidence exists that beginning teachers lack the skills and knowledge in reading.

Asking textbook publishers to provide instruction in return for getting their products on the list of approved state textbooks provides financial incentives to the publishers, but questionable benefits for teachers. At the very least, the state needs to ensure that it is putting adequate resources into teacher training.

"There're lots of things we could and should be doing," Ross said recently, "but how much of our resource base is put into assessments to determine which kids are not performing, which we already know? If we took the $29 million [spent on assessments] and put it into instruction, there might be even more impact."

The attraction of privatization is the presumption that excellence can be more cheaply purchased in the marketplace. But excellence in education is not necessarily a commodity that can be purchased on the cheap. One way or another, Floridians will pay.
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Nine escape in asylum breakout at Heathrow,,2-215410,00.html
By Richard Ford, Home Correspondent - February 22, 2002

NINE asylum-seekers and immigration detainees were on the run last night after breaking out of an immigration deportation centre near Heathrow airport.

Police used a helicopter in the search for the escapers after they were discovered missing from the centre at Harmondsworth in West London. The men had smashed a window, climbed out and scaled a wire-mesh fence using a makeshift rope ladder.

The breakout occurred less than a week after asylum-seekers caused at least 38 million of damage during a riot and breakout at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. About 27 immigration detainees are still on the run from Yarl's Wood, which is managed by the security company Group 4.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said that the area around the Harmondsworth centre had been searched by officers and police dogs, supported by the force's air support unit, but there was no trace of the escapers. Yesterday Scotland Yard scaled down the search for the nine, who were found to be missing at 9pm on Wednesday.

The centre was rebuilt last year to house 550 people, but was expanded as part of the Government's drive to increase the number of failed asylum-seekers who are removed from Britain. The centre, which is run by United Kingdom Detention Services under an eight-year contract from the Home Office, has facilities including healthcare units, a multifaith prayer room, chapel, mosque, library, shop and classrooms.

A spokesman for UK Detention Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of the French conglomerate Sodexho Alliance, said he was unable to comment on the breakout. He also refused to reveal how many staff were employed at Harmondsworth, saying only that they had each completed a nine-week training course before the centre opened.

A Home Office spokeswoman later confirmed that the nine escapers were a mix of unsuccessful asylum-seekers and immigration detainees. "The circumstances are being looked into and we will take on board any lessons that can be learnt," she said. The centre was nearly full yesterday, she added, having housed 535 detainees until the breakout.

Another key element of the Government's strategy for dealing with illegal immigrants attempting to enter Britain faces a test in the High Court today. The court is due to rule on a challenge by the Home Office against an earlier decision that it was unlawful to fine lorry drivers 2,000 for each illegal immigrant that they brought into the country.

Mr Justice Sullivan said that the fine was a legislative overkill and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The fixed penalty breached Article 6 of the Convention, which guaranteed the right to a fair trial.

Group 4's insurance company is planning to sue Bedfordshire Police for damage caused in the fire during the Yarl's Wood riot last week.

The firm, Capita McLaren, wrote to the force saying that it would issue a writ over the fire. The claim is being made under the 1886 Riot Damages Act, which allows companies and individuals to sue the police over damage caused during civil disturbances. A spokeswoman for Group 4 said that the company had had no involvement in the legal action. Bedfordshire Police yesterday described the legal action as outrageous.

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