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Auditor General: N.W.T. jail spending should focus on illness, not OT

Northwest Territories MLAs questioned justice department officials on topics ranging from overtime paid to corrections officers to mental illness supports for inmates, as they reviewed a report prepared by auditor general Michael Ferguson.

Auditor general identifies overtime, mental illness supports as major concerns in corrections report

Auditor General Michael Ferguson spoke with Northwest Territories MLAs Wednesday night about his report on Northwest Territories correctional facilities. Ferguson's report identified numerous major concerns, including everything from the availability of rehabilitation programs to safety gaps at some facilities. (CBC)

Northwest Territories justice officials defended their record to territorial MLAs at a hearing Wednesday night, responding to a March corrections report by the Auditor General of Canada saying the department is failing to meet key responsibilities in its management of inmates.

MLAs are currently reviewing the report prepared by Auditor General Michael Ferguson, which identified numerous major concerns, including everything from the availability of rehabilitation programs to safety gaps at some facilities. Ferguson was also present at the review, fielding questions about the report from MLAs.

Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses focused on overtime racked up by a handful of guards at the North Slave Correctional Centre, saying that money could have been better spent.
Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses questioned the department of justice's spending on overtime for select guards, which was highlighted in the report. (CBC)
"One third of all front-line staff that is mentioned in the North Slave Correctional Centre collected the majority of this overtime," said Moses, "when we can actually be getting professionals that can provide the drug and alcohol treatment, that can provide the psychologists."

Ten new staff were hired at the North Slave Correctional Centre in order to reduce overtime. However, overtime costs at the jail rose by 59 per cent three years later, and during the 2012/2013 year, $1.5 million was paid out in overtime at the facility. 

Ferguson said in his report that spending on overtime costs reduced resources available for other areas, such as programming.

Territorial deputy minister of justice Sylvia Haener says the department has brought that number under control, and overtime costs are down 29 per cent this year. 

"I heard Mr. Ferguson reference the need to pay attention to things, to focus, to have accountabilities," she said. "That's an example of the kind of change that can be made by doing that.

"I don't think we're doing a bad job."

Mental illness supports major concern

This spring, Ferguson released reports on the corrections systems for all three territories. At the review hearing Wednesday, he said jails in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon have problems that are particular to each, but all are doing a bad job of dealing with inmates with mental illness.

"I think that's something that all correctional systems, including the federal correctional system, is really challenged to figure out how to manage that," he said. "I think most of these systems are not set up to manage mental health issues the way they need to be managed."

Ferguson said that a good start for the Northwest Territories would be to track the training each guard receives. In his review, he found that's not currently being done.

Officials from the department of justice said yesterday that they've made changes to address many of the problems identified in Ferguson's report.

The review of Ferguson's report is expected to wrap up Thursday.

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