Union for jail guards says the public should know more about jail attacks

The union that represents provincial correctional workers says the Department of Justice needs to be more transparent about outbreaks of violence in jails.

Department of Justice only posts information about assaults when people are admitted to hospital

The Department of Justice says there's been a total of 21 assaults on inmates and staff at the provincial jail in Burnside since April 1, but none of the cases have required hospitalization. (Blair Rhodes/CBC)

The union that represents provincial correctional workers says the Department of Justice needs to be more transparent about outbreaks of violence in jails.

Since April, inmates at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S., assaulted other inmates 13 times and there were eight assaults on staff, according to the department.

In one case, two guards were attacked and an inmate who tried to help later suffered a broken jaw. In another, an inmate was stabbed twice.

In January 2018, Leslie Greenwood was beaten at the jail in Burnside while he was on trial for first-degree murder. He had a black eye and the judge in the case advised jurors to ignore the injuries and that he appeared to be in pain.

But none of those cases have been classified as a major incidents.

"It's a skewing of numbers. When you keep moving the post, and making it harder to be reported, there are no issues. But what we're saying is there are many safety issues," said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union, and a former jail guard himself.

Jason MacLean, president of the union that represents provincial corrections workers, says members are concerned about their safety. (CBC)

Assaults in jail happen "all too often" and range from yelling, to punching, kicking or throwing feces, MacLean said.

He said the definition of a major incident should be expanded to include "anything that is outside of the norm of a working day where you have to shut down one part of a facility or lock up offenders because of some sort of incident." 

'You have to set the line somewhere'

The Justice Department does have specific guidelines for when it informs the media and the public about situations involving people in custody.

The disclosure of information policy, in place since 2011, applies in a range of situations, such as a bomb threat, a "major seizure" of drugs and more than $5,000 in damage to a facility.

The first two years it was in place there were 13 incidents, the highest number on record. Last year, there were two, the lowest number.

The policy also kicks in when someone escapes from custody or when there's a disturbance lasting more than an hour and involving at least four people.

But when it comes to people getting injured in jail, it only applies when someone has to be admitted to hospital because of their injuries.

Sean Kelly, director of corrections, says management is always trying to assess safety concerns and mitigate risk. (CBC)

"If they're treated and released, that wouldn't be considered to be a reportable incident," said Sean Kelly, director of corrections for the province. 

"I guess you have to set the line somewhere and in fact, our policy is probably the most open and transparent across the country."

MacLean said if an inmate or staff member is injured enough to warrant medical treatment, it should be considered a major incident. He also said that the criminal code doesn't measure the severity of a crime based on the length of time someone spends in hospital. 

So far this year, there had been five major incidents across the province: fentanyl was seized in Burnside; inmates were injured in two separate incidents at the jail in Pictou and one in Burnside, and a vehicle carrying sheriffs and inmates was involved in a collision near Kingston.

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past eight years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be found on twitter @elizmcmillan.