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Only public concern will change troubled jail system: probation officer
Published Wednesday, February 27, 2019 2:37PM EST Last Updated Friday, March 22, 2019 12:41PM EDT
A probation officer who has clients from several provincial jails, including from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, says until the public expresses concern about conditions inside jails, no change will come to the system.
“The average taxpayer doesn’t really care. We need a taxpayer (base) that cares,” says the officer, who doesn’t want her named used. She says due to the change in government she feels her job may be in jeopardy if she comes forward. We have agreed to call her Lynda.
She says the attitude most people take is that inmates are criminals and they deserve what they get.
“The sad part is criminal behavior is more normal than abnormal. Inmates need to be re-habilitated.”
While Lynda says EMDC – which has had 13 deaths in the last decade - is the current “mascot of what is wrong in correctional institutions,” she says all of the provincial jails have problems.
“You pick any institution and it has the same issues. It’s systemic.”
But she says, the blame for the number of deaths at EMDC lies with the province.
“The severity at EMDC, it has to rest with the government.”
Lynda firmly believes that the majority of inmates can be integrated into society and thrive, but they need the right support.
“I have 70 plus offenders, all of whom I have an excellent relationship with.”
She says more affordable housing and mental health services are necessary.
For many of her clients, Lynda takes steps to try and get them psychiatric help. “I spend more time in the mental health ward of the hospital.”
She says many times when her clients are released from hospital, they are given a prescription for 30 days and sent home.
“There’s no follow-up. A (former inmate) can be completely delusional – seeing spaceships – and they are released as long as there is a belief they won’t harm themselves or somebody else.”
Lynda says everybody that works with inmates on the inside and outside have the same goal and that is their rehabilitation.
The problem is at corrections facilities, there is no correcting going on, she says. “These guys are just doing dead time.”
Lynda says when they are released, they have no place to live and their mental health issues may be worse.
Then the cycle repeats itself.
The December 2018 Institutional Violence in Ontario report, led by Howard Sapers, the former federal corrections ombudsman, acknowledged that traumas inside the system contribute to crime cycles.
“Unfortunately, correctional services have been slow to incorporate trauma-informed practices to support both staff and clients,” the report says.
“We know that negative experiences of staff have a direct impact on how those imprisoned will experience their custody and that, in turn, unfair or abusive treatment can contribute to assaultive and violent inmate behaviour.”
The report illustrates the growing violence inside the province’s correctional facilities. It used data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services that showed use of force incidents involving guards increased from 1,249 incidents in 2013 to 2,490 in 2017.
Sapers’ team also conducted a survey of correctional officers and found that more than half who responded to the Independent Review of Ontario Corrections Institutional Violence Survey reported that they did not feel safe working at their institution.
There were 43 staff members from EMDC who responded to the survey.
Lynda says there are many excellent corrections officers at every facility and they are also deeply troubled about violence and deaths inside their jails.
“Not a single front-line worker doesn’t want to see change, but the front-line workers take the fall.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, who often criticized the Wynne government over EMDC conditions, says the jail is a "continual work in progress."
He says his government wants to protect both correctional officers and inmates.
"We'll continue to ensure that support is there and that transformation continues."