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Canada: Another work refusal at MTC prison.

Midland Free Press
By Raymond Bowe
November 19, 2004

PENETANGUISHENE The Free Press has learned that a recent work refusal issued by a correctional worker cites more computer problems at the superjail, but a Ministry of Labour inspector deemed it did not pose immediate danger to the guards.

The work refusal was issued by a correctional officer in the early morning hours of Nov. 4.

Ministry of Labour spokesperson Belinda Sutton said the work refusal was called in after three alleged computer crashes the night before, and correctional officers said it posed a threat to their safety.

"The Ministry of Labour ruled the situation was not likely to endanger," said Sutton.

Peter Mount, Central North Correctional Centre spokesperson, said he would not comment on operations and procedures within the facility.

In mid-October, the jail underwent a prisonwide lockdown after the jail's main computer was reduced to half-capacity. The malfunction to the prison's central control computer system believed to be caused by faulty hard drives led to a work refusal. Guards said the failure created an unsafe environment in the admission and discharge area where about 40 prisoners were awaiting entrance to the prison.

Labour inspectors can be summoned to a location for five main reasons, said Sutton, including a complaint, a work refusal, an accident, a work stoppage, or as a proactive measure to ensure a workplace is complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Sharon Dion, a member of the prison's Community Monitoring Committee and an advocate for the abolishment of private prisons in Canada, said she is at her wit's end regarding continual defects within the jail.

"This is absolutely ridiculous," said Dion. "If (Management and Training Corporation) cared about its correctional officers, they'd deal with this promptly."

Central North Correctional Centre is Canada's only privately run adult prison, operated by the Utah-based company MTC.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said it's "pretty obvious" how these failures would affect correctional officers.

"It blinds you," said Don Ford, OPSEU spokesperson. "You can no longer rely on the electronics."

Ford said OPSEU has long been against the proliferation of and reliability on electronic equipment in jails because it essentially replaces staff.

"When (the electronic equipment) is no longer reliable, you need staff to be checking those doors," said Ford. "It becomes very dangerous until everything is physically checked."

Tony Brown, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said computer problems are MTC's responsibility.

"The operator has a contractual obligation that those systems are maintained," said Brown.

The ministry is responsible for the physical plant, nothing else.

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