Attacks on corrections officers on the rise at EMDC

Attacks on corrections officers at London's Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) are on the rise, according to data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

There were 23 attacks on corrections officers in the first half of 2017, according to data from the province

Members of the union representing corrections officers say they need better ways of deterring inmates from committing assaults. (Joseph Loiero/CBC)

Attacks on corrections officers at London's Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) are on the rise, according to data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. 

In 2014, inmates at EMDC committed seven assaults against corrections officers.

In the years since, that number has increased sharply:

  • In 2015, there were 21 assaults against corrections officers
  • In 2016, there were 24 assaults against corrections officers
  • In the first half of 2017 alone, there were 23 assaults against corrections officers

The ministry says it is still reconciling reports from the latter half of 2017, and will share that data when it becomes available.

Janet Laverty, president of OPSEU Local 108, which represents corrections officers at EMDC, says the numbers reflect the reality for her colleagues. 

"The assaults against staff have risen and we are ahead of where we were this time last year with assaults," said Laverty, who added that growing violence isn't just a problem at EMDC.

"Every institution is seeing that same trend of a rise in assaults on officers," she said.

Numbers from the 25 prisons across Ontario reflect a similar upward trend.

Across the province, 793 violent incidents were reported by guards in 2016. By the end of June 2017, there had already been 617 reports.

Why the numbers are so high, according to OPSEU

Laverty says that officers need to have access to better deterrents to keep inmates from lashing out.

"Right now we have very limited tools in our resource bag that we can utilize to keep control of our institution," she said.

OPSEU told CBC Ottawa that segregation isn't the deterrent it once was, because the maximum time inmates can spend in segregation has been halved, and increased privileges for those in segregation mean that inmates are no longer as skittish about being sent there.

 "Is there any deterrent for these individuals if they wanna strike out?"- Monte Vieselmeyer

The union also says many segregated cells are being occupied by inmates with mental health issues, which means violent offenders who would otherwise be segregated are being sent back into the general population.

Extra time tacked onto an inmate's sentence for assaulting officers could be a strong deterrent—but it's one that prisons aren't taking advantage of, according to Monte Vieselmeyer, corrections chair at OPSEU. 

"Say if you attack an officer, you get an additional year or two on your sentence," said Vieselmeyer. "We're not seeing that, so why is there any deterrent for these individuals if they wanna strike out?"

Why the numbers are so high, according to the Ministry

The ministry has said that what appears to be an increasing number of attacks on guards could simply be the reflection of changes to data collection.

"As part of our greater data management reform initiative, we are modernizing the way data is tracked across our correctional system and phasing out unreliable manual processes," they said in an email statement.

Vieselmeyer said he isn't sure about that idea. He said that the way the ministry collects data has stayed 'more or less the same since 2014,' which means changes in data collection wouldn't account for climbing numbers in the years since.

"I've always been supportive of more robust reporting because that shows either something's working well or maybe there's a problem," he said.

"What we're seeing is assaults on staff has significantly gone up... Well, that shows there's a significant problem."

When asked what the ministry is doing to protect staff, it said it takes assaults on officers seriously, that it provides training to officers on an ongoing basis and that police are called immediately when an assault or threat has taken place. 

The ministry says ongoing improvements to infrastructure, housing and programming will help ensure staff have the tools they need to do their work.