Special adviser to probe 'disturbing' rise in jail violence

The minister in charge of Ontario's jails has asked the province's corrections adviser to investigate a spike in violence against correctional officers.

Province hiring 26 new security, intelligence officers in attempt to reverse trend

Marie-France Lalonde, Ontario's corrections minister, announced Thursday the province's independent corrections adviser has been asked to review violence against jail guards. (CBC)

The minister in charge of Ontario's jails has asked the province's independent corrections adviser to investigate a spike in violence against correctional officers.

Violent acts against correctional officers, which include threats, spitting, punching, kicking and attacks with weapons, have been on the rise in Ontario jails.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, there were 793 such incidents reported by guards at the province's 25 jails in 2016. 

By the end of June 2017 — the latest data available — there had already been 617 reports.

Violent incidents range from threats, to spitting, throwing punches and bodily fluids, to attacks with a weapon. The final numbers for 2017 are expected later this spring. (CBC News)

Following a CBC News report earlier this week in which correctional officers and their union blamed the violence on recent changes to segregation rules in the province's jails, a ministry official suggested the trend might be tied to improvements in data collection, rather than a rise in the number of attacks.

On Thursday, Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde said the numbers suggest a "deeply, deeply disturbing trend" that's causing significant concern.

​She announced at Queen's Park that she has asked Howard Sapers, the province's corrections adviser, to look into the issue and report back within 90 days.

"We need an in-depth understanding of what is happening in our institutions and, more importantly, what is driving the trends," said Lalonde in a letter to Sapers which was shared by her office

Sapers confirmed to CBC News he will be doing the review.

"This is critically important. Nobody, not the men and women who are sent by the courts, not the men and women who work in the institutions, nobody goes to a jail to endure violence," Sapers told CBC Radio's Ontario Today

"We need to understand what's happening inside the walls of Ontario correctional centres right now, because there have been some reported trends that cause alarm and some of the individual incidents are actually quite horrifying."

Lalonde also said the province is hiring 26 new security and intelligence officers to seize contraband smuggled into jails, monitor gang members and work proactively with inmates to help curb violence.