Internal report highlights ongoing problems in N.W.T. correction centres

A recent internal report obtained by CBC News shows workers with the Northwest Territories Corrections Service are unhappy about some of the conditions faced at work.

The issues are not new, says a union leader

The North Slave Correctional Complex in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Staff shortages, insufficient training, lack of appropriate uniforms and personal protective equipment.

Those are all themes of staff concerns within the Northwest Territories correction services, according to a recent internal report obtained by CBC News, which has agreed not to name the source.

A note to staff dated Nov. 30 from the Northwest Territories Department of Justice states that a survey had been sent out earlier this year and there were one-on-one interviews done by consultants HR Atlantic. The note is marked as confidential and was signed by Charlene Doolittle, the deputy minister of Justice.

A 12-page workplace assessment staff summary report, dated Nov. 27, was also sent to staff.

It says the survey had a 52 per cent response rate with 162 participating staff. There were 98 staff that were interviewed, with 24 who declined, 16 did not show up to a confirmed interview nor reschedule, and 32 who did not show up but did reschedule.

Sean Dalton, the second vice president for the Union of Northern Workers, says the issues revealed in the report are not new.

"There's a lot of concern in our workplaces," Dalton said, adding he couldn't speak to the specifics in the report.

He says those concerns include "having adequate staffing, having health and safety concerns addressed, having our members and the officers on the floor being equipped with the proper personal protective equipment that they require for their jobs."

Dalton says the concerns have been a "recurring theme we've heard from our membership … for a number of years."

Concerns validated

In 2015, a report from the auditor general of Canada examining corrections in the N.W.T. revealed serious case management deficiencies, key safety requirement issues, security concerns and lack of adequate management across the five correction facilities in the territory. That includes four adult facilities and one youth facility.

Now, flagged as ongoing issues in the recent assessment, Dalton said the report confirms the concerns.

"The fact that these are significantly highlighted by a number of our members in this staffing report, it shows that our concerns have been validated," he said.

"These are things that the employer really needs to take seriously and start to address in a meaningful manner with consultation with the union."

Improvements need to be made, minister says

R. J. Simpson, the N.W.T. Justice minister, was not available for an interview but provided an emailed statement acknowledging the report.

"This workplace assessment was initiated by the deputy minister of the Department of Justice as a result of various concerns raised by staff and other individuals regarding the corrections services' workplaces," Simpson wrote, adding it was done by an independent contractor to "encourage objective discussions with staff."

"Management has started the process of reviewing the information in the report to fully understand the staff viewpoint and consider the issues they raised."

Minister of Justice R.J. Simpson acknowledged the summary report in an email to CBC News. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Simpson also highlighted the new Corrections Act that will come into effect next spring. The new act is intended to shift the philosophy of the way the department works to support inmate rehabilitation, and implement policy changes to be able to support the work.

Simpson said he knew the department had work to do — and some changes have already started. That includes how supervisors and managers have started to participate in a mental health leadership training program so they are better equipped to support their staff, Simpson wrote.

"Improvements need to be made," he said. "While this is not going to be a quick process, we are committed to make change happen." 

Staff morale affected

The report also notes about a dozen bullet points of what is being done well, including great pay and benefits, good relations with their direct supervisor and staff saying they enjoyed working with their team.

But Dalton said the ongoing issues have affected morale.

"When you have concerns in the workplace, they do degrade morale.That is an unfortunate side effect," he said.

Corrections service employers should "take meaningful action" in a "timely fashion," Dalton said, and consult with the union.

Dalton added the union has expressed a desire to work with the employer to come to resolutions.

"We've asked to be involved in consultation and the review process and to be part of making recommendations to move forward for improvements in all of these categories in the workplace," he said.

"And we're hopeful that the employer will work with us together on this project."

With files by Richard Gleeson