Nova Scotia·CBC INVESTIGATES

Burnside jail officers 'short staffed' when inmate mistakenly released

Correctional officers paint a “hectic” and “frustrating” picture of the working conditions inside the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, according to internal interviews obtained by CBC News.

Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility describe ‘hectic’ and ‘rushed’ workplace in internal interviews

CBC obtained transcripts of the interviews six guards gave to investigators from the Department of Justice after an inmate was mistakenly released Dec. 8 (Shutterstock)

Correctional officers paint a "hectic" and "frustrating" picture of the working conditions inside the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, according to internal interviews obtained by CBC News.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, CBC obtained transcripts of the interviews six guards gave to investigators from the Department of Justice after an inmate was mistakenly released Dec. 8.

Robert Eisnor was serving time on weekends and was let go at 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m.

A seventh guard's answers have been completely redacted.

The guards revealed they felt "short staffed" that morning.

"We almost always don't have enough staff," one of them said.

According to the interviews, either five or six guards were supposed to be on duty during the Monday morning release, but only two reported that early morning.

The Department of Justice would not confirm the number for security reasons.

It was kind of the worst timing in the entire world.- Correctional officer

One of the guards had worked the night shift but was asked to stay on to help with the morning rush.

Another guard was training. It was their first time on the Monday morning discharge desk.

"It was kind of the worst timing in the entire world," said an officer working that day.

All of the guards' names were redacted for privacy reasons.

A public review of the incident found staff weren't following policy and didn't confirm when Eisnor was supposed to be let go. He was able to slip his ID bracelet off without anyone noticing.

Monday morning rush

"I got a little bit backed up with the paperwork and I was checking off the bracelets and matching them up with the property and I realized he was gone," said one of the officers.

It took the guards about five minutes to realize the mistake.

"She said, 'Oh my God is this guy still here?' I said, 'Who?' 'Cause I don't know...You see them here but you don't really know their names," said one guard.

In the interviews the officers expressed frustration with how many intermittent inmates are released at one time.

There were 41 intermittent sentence inmates in jail at one point that December weekend.

Inmates are brought down in "manageable" groups," says Kelly. Officers have to strip search, change and return the inmates' personal belongings before they are signed out.

"We start doing it a little bit early because you have to pound out 45 people," one said. "So being that short staffed...you gotta get things rolling."

'Seems very crowded'

One of the men conducting the investigation, Wayne Horner, manager of policy and programs, pointed out the daily release area "seems very crowded, all sort of milling around there."

"It's always been a hectic procedure because we have over 20 people that we all have to release basically [at] the same time," said an officer.

A public review of the incident found staff weren't following policy and didn't confirm when Eisnor was supposed to be let go. He was able to slip his ID bracelet off without anyone noticing. (CBC)

One officer said in the past they've had people complaining because they've been let out five minutes late. Another pointed out they could get in trouble if they keep an inmate past their custody term.

"We cannot release them too early and we cannot release them too late," they said.

"It gets busy down there," said one of the guards. "You know you have that limited period of time to get people out so it's kind of rushed."

"You're trying to get them done properly and doing it properly but quick as you can….It's frustrating when you're not, because you don't have the right staff."

Department denies staffing problems

Sean Kelly, director of correctional services with the Department of Justice, says despite the comments in the interviews, staffing was not a contributing factor in the accidental release.

"Someone did not confirm the time of day that the person was scheduled to be released. It's as simple as that," he said. "Fixing a problem with staff doesn't really truly fix the problem. Often by adding more people you can actually cause more confusion. What's more important is for staff to understand what their job is."

However, Joan Jessome, president of the union representing correctional officers, says staffing has been a problem at the Burnside facility for years, especially at the admission and discharge desk.

"They need to maybe double up on staff at that time...They need to figure it out," she said. "You can't run a facility without adequate staffing. If you don't have adequate staffing who are all trained mistakes like this can happen...it's one of the main reasons why it happened."

Kelly says after the incident they reviewed policy with the jail's officers.

"It is a very busy place...I can understand them feeling rushed if they have a lineup but at the same time that's even more of a reason to make sure they follow proper policy and do it right to make sure mistakes aren't made," he said.

Release time not check

In the transcripts, one worker said the area was poorly managed that morning.

If the release area is organized it's "like going through a cash register at Walmart," they said.

Kelly says the department learned in their investigation they have to make their policies clearer. They're also offering more orientation training.

"He was released 12 hours early. To be quite honest even one hour is unacceptable," he said.

Jessome says her team is meeting with the employer and staff to review the safety in the jail - including the admission and discharge area.

She says the relationship isn't "perfect" but things are improving. 

"I've been around for awhile and this is the first time I've seen a genuine interest by the employer have things addressed on the safety issue."

About the Author

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked at CBC in Nova Scotia. She can be reached at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca or @cattunneyCBC.

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