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Canada: Two more MTC stabbings.

Inmates sent to hospital
By Raymond Bowe & Tom Villemaire
September 10, 2004

Local News - PENETANGUISHENE Following a pair of stabbings at Central North Correctional Centre, an anonymous correctional officer at the superjail said a lockdown and subsequent search yielded a pocketknife, the same week a report was leaked to the media about modicum staffing levels. Because of staff shortages, searches aren't performed as regularly as they should be, said the correctional officer.

The draft internal memo, from deputy of operations Phill Clough to prison administrator Doug Thomson, says some areas of the prison are understaffed.

The Free Press has obtained a full copy of the 37-page missive.

"The situation on a regular basis is that with the deployment of utilities to the units and on escorts, there are numerous shifts where in fact there are no utilities available in the centre, despite the large number of resources being shown in the budget," reads the report. "Someone likely the union is identifying these shortages to the compliance unit. So while CNCC exceeds the number of staff in the contract, we are in a situation where on a regular basis we are not in compliance with the contract.

"Over hired staff are placed in utility positions to meet not-funded tasks," the report continues.

"Searches are not being done in a systematic manner because these other demands give the appearance of a resource when in fact none is available."

At least one anti-privatization supporter says the memo should open the public's eyes once and for all about staffing levels inside the jail.

"The words come straight from one of their administrators," said Sharon Dion, head of Citizens Against Private Prisons Penetanguishene, and a member of the prison's community advisory committee. "If it's a concern to them it should be a community concern.

"This is not (just) a current problem," she added. "It's an ongoing problem."

Thomson told The Free Press it's "unfortunate" that the memo made its way into public hands, but jail officials are always trying to improve.

"Internal operations are always subject to review, and that's just good practice," Thomson said. "Whether a memo was leaked or stolen is another matter."

Clough was hired to do exactly what was addressed in the memo, said Thomson, including identifying strengths and weaknesses inside the jail.

"We have addressed most of the issues that were raised," Thomson said, including revised schedules which have been and continue to be phased in since the memo was drafted. Scheduling is also subject to an agreement with the union as part of the collective agreement achieved in March, he added, although the matter is in a constant state of review.

Thomson said the job of all prison employees is to ensure the safety of staff and the community, and he hopes the leaked memo has not compromised safety at any level.

"As far as the report, it shows we're taking our business serious," Thomson said.

Superjail officials were not aware the press conference was being held last week to discuss items outlined in the memo.

"We had no knowledge of it," said Thomson, who added there are internal and police investigations into how the memo was taken from the prison. "We're taking it seriously. It is old, but we're concerned about why it was released.

Dion said the report clearly spells out deficiencies inside the jail that she suspected all along.

"There is no grey area in this document," said Dion. "It's black and white. Obviously our government has underestimated the number of correctional officers it takes (to operate the prison properly)."

The aforementioned correctional officer, who requested anonymity fearing retaliation from their employer, Management and Training Corporation, said the superjail has about 180 guards compared to about 320 at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, identical in design to CNCC. MTC is the American-based company contracted by the provincial government to operate CNCC.

Thomson could not comment on the perceived discrepancy between staffing levels at CECC versus CNCC, but he did say the ministry agreed to the contract with MTC which included staffing levels, and MTC is meeting those standards. Although he was not sure what staffing levels are at CECC, Thomson said "the security is the same" at the two facilities.

"We look at what we're contracted to do and we're conforming with the contract," said Thomson, who assured there is no risk to either staff or the community. He said if the ministry expects MTC to hire more staff, further discussion between the two sides would be required.

The correctional officer said there should be more routine searches, and a lack of officers means crucial security positions aren't given the attention they deserve.

"That means the cameras aren't always monitored," they said. "We just don't have enough people."

The OPP is investigating a pair of stabbings that happened last Saturday at CNCC. A 21-year-old Toronto man received a puncture wound to his leg, and a 20-year-old man, also from Toronto, sustained a puncture wound to his chest and a cut on his thumb. Both inmates were treated at Huronia District Hospital before being returned to the prison.

The correctional officer said a lockdown and subsequent search yielded a pocketknife. This is believed to be the first time a real knife has been used in an assault at the superjail. Other sources have told the newspaper that another weapon was carved from a plastic dinner tray. Other objects, such as sharpened pencils and toothbrushes, have been used in other violent attacks.

The correctional officer says scaled-back searches makes for a dangerous environment for officers, staff and inmates. They said CNCC should conduct searches of all inmate living areas at least every two weeks; instead searches are conducted, at best, once a month.

The Institutional Crisis Intervention Team was not called in for the recent stabbing incident, said Thomson, although close to 190 prisoners were segregated and locked down when the incident took place. At that point the police were called in. An entire pod was locked down for the day, he said.

"We have zero-tolerance for (violent behaviour)," he said.

Dion has received phone calls from guards, inmates and family members of people inside the jail both employed and incarcerated there "fearing for the safety of their family members. That's something I hear all the time from staff."

Due to security concerns, Thomson could not comment on how often searches are conducted, although they are regular "and we meet a certain standard." There are also unannounced searches. Management also tours the facility daily.

CNCC spokesperson Peter Mount stated in the broadcast media the staffing problem has been fixed, and a Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson said compliance issues are addressed "as they emerge."

Dion begs to differ on both counts.

"The problem has not been corrected, and public COs will not work for MTC because of their reputation," Dion said.

According to Clough's memo, the segregation area "has significantly more staff coverage than the contract calls for. The workload in this area is much higher than anticipated in the contract. Reductions in this area would result in significant difficulties meeting medical standards." Clough says the segregation area was recently audited and received "good feedback" from the ministry.

"There have already been safety issues raised by nursing and other medical staff," reads the memo. "Reduced staffing, which would impact the flow of inmate to accessing medical care, would be difficult."

A summary in the memo states CNCC has over-hired correctional officers, as per the budget and contract, but "it still isn't meeting its contractual obligations."

However, the apparent overall staff shortage is further compounded by what Dion says is a lack of graduating correctional officer from MTC's training program,

"Until those are completed, we don't have the COs, so the problem has not been rectified," Dion said.

Locally, the last class of trained officers entered the facility more than six months ago, according to the correctional officer, who estimated that about 45 correctional officers are needed each shift to staff each post.

Thomson said eight correctional officer training "academies" have been conducted since the prison opened.

"Part of those ongoing academies is to look at staff turnover and forecast for hirings," Thomson said, noting there are currently no academies underway, although one could start up in the fall.

There is no timeline regarding when academies are begun, Thomson said, and many factors including guard attrition rates are factored into the timing.

Correctional workers are also being forced to work overtime, resulting in a scheduling nightmare, according to the memo generated internally at CNCC. Some guards have been trying since January to schedule holidays, said the correctional officer.

"It's expected in any jail to do that," said Thomson, who said internal security is the prime reason it sometimes happens. "It's not something you like to do, but at the end of the day our job is to have the staff."

Thomson said part of the scheduling review process is to try to curb the amount of overtime accumulated.

The internal memo suggest "huge" overtime costs have been incurred, and a large amount of money is also being spent of OPP escorts. According to figures in the memo, the contract with the province calls for 187.51 hours of correctional officer time, while more than 216 hours were scheduled.

http://www.midlandfreepress.com/webapp/sitepages/content.asp?contentid=78970&catname=Local+News



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