Province taking liberties with EMDC guards’ safety: OPSEU member
London Community News
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
With claims of unsafe working conditions, over-crowding and understaffing at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC), dozens of jail guards questioned the provincial government Friday (Sept. 28) on what it plans to do to alleviate the situation.
During a protest at the 711 Exeter Rd. facility, staged by members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 108, which represents the guards, murmurs of discontent could be heard as the workers demonstrated during their lunch break.
Rick Prestage, an EMDC employee for 27 years, said he took to the picket line because the facility is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to work.
“I’ve never seen anything like this violence in the institution,” he said. “I’ve got just over six years left to retire and I’d like to be able to see my pension and not be hurt in the workplace.
“They take liberties with our safety, in my opinion, and I don’t mean just locally, but corporately.”
Prestage, a health and safety representative at EMDC, threw his voice in with the many others, saying the government isn’t listening to the complaints of both inmates and guards. He added being short-staffed leads to safety problems and it doesn’t appear that more guards will be hired in the near future.
With overcrowding comes an increase in violence. According to a press release issued by OPSEU, EMDC is on par to reach 278 inmate-on-inmate assaults by the end of the year. Violence against correctional officers has also tripled over the past three years.
Trish Goden, a correctional officer and president of OPSEU Local 108, said the right amount of staff and beds would go a long way in helping the situation.
“(Inmates) are just jammed in there,” she said. “They’re disgruntled because are people sleeping on the floor right beside the toilet. If they’re locked down because we’re short of staff, then they don’t get to shower, use the phone.
“No one wants to be in those conditions and their living conditions are our working conditions.”
James Coull, another EMDC employee, said the province and management group are the ones who should be trying to alleviate the problems jails are facing, not just the guards.
“They’re responsible for the institutions, they need to come and they need to address the issues because me at my level, I can’t invoke any change,” he said. “Every day we’re short-staffed and when we’re not short-staffed, we’re over-crowded.”
There are also security and infrastructure issues at the London-based facility too, Coull said, namely things are being broken and not fixed because there isn’t enough funds to do so.
But, if jails across the province are running at full capacity, Prestage added it’s because of people working overtime, which comes with its own safety problems.
“Eventually people are going to get tired,” he said, stressing new staff could be hired with the amount of money paid out through overtime.
In order to properly address all of the issues, Goden said Corrections Minister Madeline Meilleur, must personally visit the EMDC facility.
“A lot of the statements that she makes are not true and that’s either because she doesn’t know because she hasn’t been here herself or somewhere along the line, the communication is being missed,” Goden said. “We would like to see somebody that’s actually overseeing and someone who’s making sure that the jails are being run properly.”
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