Nfld. & Labrador

NDP criticizes 24-hour shifts for Her Majesty's Penitentiary guards

A lack of staffing at Newfoundland and Labrador's largest prison has lead to back-to-back 12-hour shifts and missed meals for correctional officers, says the provincial NDP.
The union representing correctional officers at Her Majesty's Penitentiary says 24-hour shifts poise significant risk. (CBC)

A lack of staffing at Newfoundland and Labrador's largest prison has lead to back-to-back 12-hour shifts and missed meals for correctional officers, the provincial NDP says.

In the House of Assembly Wednesday, St. John's-Centre MHA Gerry Rogers went through a list of statistics to illustrate problems with staffing at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

Rogers said, in the month of May, the antiquated facility was operating at full capacity "yet seriously understaffed," citing 25 times where officers worked 24-hour shifts.

"Last month alone there were ... 115 overtime shifts, 211 double dinners, forcing staff to go without dinner breaks — this is within a month," Rogers said. "This is not a safe working environment."

However, Justice and Public Safety Minister Darin King said he's not brought in on discussions of scheduling and overtime, unless management flags something as urgent. 

"I can say categorically I'm not aware of any of those statistics but I wouldn't be, as I've [said] many times in this House," King said. 

"If there are extenuating circumstances that need my attention, Mr Speaker, I'm certain that the good leadership at the penitentiary will bring it to my attention and we'll work with them on it."

Nothing new

A scathing report into corrections in the province released in 2008 titled Decades of Darkness specifically noted that 24-hour shifts for correctional officers is "totally unacceptable."

The panel who conducted interviews for the report noted that "should an incident occur and staff not react appropriately, the department may well be held accountable."

Jerry Earle, president of NAPE — the union that represents corrections officers, said working a regular 12-hour shift as a correctional officer is physically draining, and long extensions are unacceptable.

"You can imagine now working 24 hours, you need in this type of job to be alert, to be totally aware of your surroundings for your own safety and safety of others," Earle said.

"It's certainly a health and safety issue that has to be addressed."

Earle said he'll be looking for more information from union members and staff before seeking a meeting with officials with the department of justice and public safety about working hours at HMP.

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