Nova Scotia

Burnside jail guards may refuse to work over safety concerns

A plan to move corrections workers at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility inside the inmate common room in order to monitor those inmates has the union flagging serious safety concerns.

New supervision model drawing safety concerns from union members

The NSGEU organized a rally for Burnside jail employees who are concerned about their safety because of proposed supervision changes at the facility. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A plan to move corrections workers at the Burnside jail inside the inmate common room in order to monitor those inmates has the union flagging serious safety concerns.

Guards at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility currently stand behind a glass wall. But the change to a direct supervision model could be implemented as soon as Sunday, said Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union president Jason MacLean, a former corrections employee himself.

"I believe what's going to happen is you're going to see work refusals," said MacLean of the workers' concerns. "They do not feel safe."

The jail is the largest in the province. About two dozen employees and family members held a protest against the change on Thursday. MacLean spoke to reporters on their behalf. 

Best practice

The system is already in place at the new Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in New Glasgow. The Department of Justice said in a statement it has been successful, and it is now considered a best practice in corrections.

NSGEU president Jason MacLean. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

But MacLean said there's a distinct difference between the two jails. In New Glasgow, he said workers can stand behind a metre-high barrier in the room and work at a desk.

He said it's an essential safety measure in case guards are confronted by an inmate.

"It gives me time to think of what I need to do: I need to call for backup. I need to assess the situation to see if I can handle the situation that's in front to me, or I need to make an exit out the back door," MacLean said.

'Cinder block' workspace

The department said New Glasgow doesn't have a barrier but a "v-shaped workstation made of cinder block and a wooden desktop."

The statement said the same structure is being considered for Burnside, and the safety of inmates and employees is a priority.

But that's not good enough for MacLean, who wants a barrier installed immediately.

"We believe people aren't safe if they're not going to put that wall up."