A year after youth jail riot, union says safety changes slow to come
‘They feel a handful of things have been done but nothing substantive,’ union head says of Waterville workers
The union representing staff at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville said it is still waiting on changes promised by the government, despite the province's assurances that safety at the youth jail will be improved.
In September 2016, three workers were seriously injured during an inmate riot at the facility.
One worker required surgery to reanchor his teeth using bone from his hip. Another had her nose broken and suffered a concussion, and a third suffered facial injuries and a concussion, according to court records.
Following the riot, a group that included the Department of Justice's deputy superintendent, youth workers and a consultant, came up with 103 recommendations to improve safety. They ranged from issuing stab-proof vests and pepper spray, to buying weighted furniture that's harder to throw.
The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, Jason MacLean, said he recently received a letter from the province telling him most of those recommendations have been completed.
But that's not what he's hearing from staff at the facility.
"They feel a handful of things have been done but nothing substantive," MacLean said. "I mean, the weighted furniture is something that was important, especially with the riot that happened, furniture was used, furniture was thrown and people are still at risk."
The Department of Justice, which oversees youth corrections in the province, said in an email that 91 of the 103 recommendations have been accepted. Department spokesperson Sarah Gillis did not say how many recommendations have actually been put in place.
Upgrades in the works
Gillis said excess furniture has been removed from the building and staff are waiting for several pieces of new weighted furniture to arrive. A new upgraded system for surveillance cameras will also be installed by the end of this month.
The department also said the youth facility is far different from an adult jails, which often have greater security. A "direct supervision model" is used in youth facility where staff work directly with offenders using restorative approaches.
MacLean said Waterville has also brought in handheld video cameras that can be clipped on belts, but many remain stored in offices. He said he understands that only a handful of workers will be trained to use pepper spray, but maintains all staff should.
"Regardless of that being a youth facility it is still a jail," said MacLean. "It is a correctional facility, it is people who have been removed from society because of certain dangers, and it should be treated as such and I don't believe the government is taking it as seriously as they should be."
"What we're trying to do is get a clear answer from the department on what has been fulfilled."