Nfld. & Labrador

Corrections staff stressed by suicide, and 'challenging' workplace

No one expects a suicide on their watch, says NAPE president.

Union argues that penitentiary needs on-site psychiatrist and addictions counsellors

NAPE president Jerry Earle correctional officers work in deplorable conditions and face many challenges, including threats. (CBC)

The recent suicide of an inmate at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's has the union which represents prison guards calling for the replacement of the facility, along with more resources to help deal with stress.

"Correctional officers work in a very challenging environment anyway," said Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees.

"Not a single correctional officer, or anybody, goes to work anticipating they're going to have a death by suicide on their watch, so it has quite a devastating impact on them as well."

Earle offered condolences to the families who have been affected by prison deaths over the past year.

Four deaths at N.L. prisons in a year

Chris Sutton, 32, took his own life July 1, comparing conditions at the penitentiary in St. John's to torture.

Last August, Doug Neary, a married father of two, took his life at the prison.

Two women, Skye Martin and Samantha Piercey, died at the Clarenville prison in April and May.

The deaths have led to a review by a retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary superintendent, but families have demanded a full inquiry.

"Corrections officers do their best in the circumstances. They don't have a voice in setting procedures, putting policies in place," Earle said.

He called for immediate action to replace the aging penitentiary, arguing that the federal and provincial governments should stop "finger pointing" about who should pay.

The penitentiary may have a great view but inmates rarely see it. The lack of outdoor recreation is one of the complaints from prisoners. (CBC)

"When you have a facility, where parts of it are older than Canada itself, that speaks volumes," Earle said.

"Those inmates and the staff that work there, it's unbelievable conditions that they're housed and they work in."

Other facilities are "busting at the seams," Earle said, calling for a comprehensive strategy.

He said a report done 10 years ago recommended having a full-time psychiatrist and addictions counsellors to support inmates and corrections staff, but those services are still provided by outside specialists. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ryan Cooke