NSGEU calling for pause on supervision model after attack on guards

Union president Jason MacLean says two guards were assaulted at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre in Burnside last week.

'It's affecting their safety and morale at the Burnside jail," says NSGEU head Jason MacLean

The north unit at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre in the Burnside Industrial Park in Dartmouth has been undergoing a $6.8-million renovation to move to a direct supervision model. (Robert Short/CBC)

After two guards were assaulted by inmates at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre last week, the union that represents them is calling for the province to wait on its plan to roll out a new supervision model.

The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) said the attack happened on May 31 at the Burnside jail. One of the officers had to be taken to hospital, Jason MacLean said.

MacLean, a former corrections officer, said concerns for the employees' safety is why the union is calling for a review of the jail's superintendent and an assessment of the facility before moving to the direct supervision model.

What happened last week

MacLean said a cell door was opened May 31 and an inmate punched an officer in the face. Another officer was swarmed by about eight inmates when trying to help.

But another issue for the union, according to MacLean, comes from a meeting of the management-employee relations committee that happened the following day.

MacLean said members were told at that meeting on June 1 that inmates in the area where the incident took place would only be allowed out one at a time while an investigation took place.

"The very next day, [superintendent] Tim Carroll arbitrarily made a decision to allow four inmates out at a time, and then allow eight inmates at a time," MacLean said.

"It's an example of lack of respect that management has shown for the employees, and it's affecting their safety and morale at the Burnside jail."

NSGEU president Jason MacLean also wants there to be a review into the conduct of jail Supt. Tim Carroll. (CBC)

MacLean said inmates attacked another prisoner "out of retaliation" on Monday, after the inmate tried to help the guards who were assaulted on May 31.

The union president said the prisoner ended up with a broken jaw — and MacLean blames the second round of violence on the decision that multiple inmates were allowed out of their cells at the same time.

"Another problem we have with this is these offenders that are in this area are slated to be in the direct supervision area that will be opening soon," he said.

Direct supervision model

The facility has been undergoing a $6.8-million renovation to convert the cell block to a direct supervision model, meaning cells are arranged surrounding a living area where guards will be stationed and will interact directly with inmates.

The union has been vocal about its concerns for workers' safety under this new approach.

The Central Nova Correctional Centre's new direct supervision model will see guards situated directly amongst the inmates. (CBC)

MacLean now wants to stop the plan from going ahead until an assessment can be done on the facility.

He also wants to see a review into the conduct of the superintendent, adding his members have "zero confidence" in Tim Carroll.

"I truly have issue with him and how he treats my members," he said.

CBC News contacted Carroll directly, but he referred CBC to the Nova Scotia Department of Justice for comment.

Spokesperson Sarah Gillis said in an email that an investigation was done and the disclosure policy defines a major incident as "a serious injury that requires in-patient hospitalization."

Major incidents at the facility are publicly listed on the department's website, but Gillis said the incident on May 31 did not meet the criteria to be listed.

The first stage of major renovations at Nova Scotia’s largest jail is nearing completion, but the union representing correctional officers is worried about their safety. (Blair Rhodes/CBC)

She said the department is committed to being open and transparent.

MacLean was unsure whether the officer stayed in the hospital, but he had a hard time believing this shouldn't be classified as a major incident.

"There are things going on within that facility that are being hidden, and it shouldn't be happening," he said.

Gillis said the direct supervision model is considered "across North America as a best practice in corrections for the safety and security of correctional officers and inmates."

She said there is ongoing staff training in direct supervision, including scenario-based training, and that the management-union committee is working on staffing for direct supervision.

Body scanning technology will also be installed in all adult correctional facilities across the province in an effort to reduce the flow of contraband and improve safety.

MacLean said he has a commitment from the justice minister to have a working group put together to discuss issues in terms of management conduct, morale and how to make the facilities better places for employees.

The department would not confirm whether that was true.