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Jail staff shortage leads to spike in lockdowns in northeastern Ontario

The number of lockdowns caused by staffing shortages at jails in northeastern Ontario is increasing, according to provincial documents.

'Extremely debilitating to the emotional stress of our own staff, in addition to the inmates'

(Jenifer Norwell/CBC)
Over the last five years the number of lockdowns in jails have spiked dramatically. Ministry documents say it's due to staffing shortages. We spoke to Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of a union committee about the problem. 10:54
The number of lockdowns caused by staffing shortages at jails in northeastern Ontario is increasing, according to documents obtained by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.  

"From an operational standpoint, that creates safety issues not only for the staff, but the offenders that we supervise," said Monte Vieselmeyer, the chair of the Corrections and Ministry Employee Relations Committee at OPSEU.

The documents reveal the number of lockdowns at the Sudbury jail has gone from zero in 2009 to 13 in 2014. It also shows there have been similar spikes across the region.

"We deal with mental health issues, addictions issues, anger management issues," said Vieselmeyer.

"So if they're locked down and they don't have a normalized routine, who are the first people they take out those issues on? They take them out on the front line workers, so it makes our jobs more difficult."

It becomes, quite frankly, like a slap in the face.- John Rimore is the executive director of the John Howard Society in Sudbury

The John Howard Society in Sudbury serves inmates and people who have gone through the prison system. It is also concerned about the rise in lockdowns due to staffing shortages because it has had to cancel programs.

John Rimore of Sudbury's John Howard Society says jail lockdowns are forcing the cancellation of support programs the group provides for inmates. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)
"It is extremely debilitating to the emotional stress of our own staff in addition to the inmates, when they are trying to provide programs and they cannot," said John Rimore is the executive director of the John Howard Society in Sudbury. "It becomes, quite frankly, like a slap in the face."

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services tells CBC News that safety and security is its top priority and the ministry continues to hire more officers to meet staffing demands.

OPSEU is in the process of negotiating a contract with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

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