Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay corrections officers call for change

Thunder Bay corrections officers say the prison system is broken — putting staff, inmates and the public at risk.
The union representing officers at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre says there is a lack of support when dealing with violent and mentally ill offenders. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Thunder Bay corrections officers say the prison system is broken — putting staff, inmates and the public at risk.

The guards are speaking out as part of a province-wide campaign by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. The union has just released a report calling for reform, including increasing staffing, fixing crumbling infrastructure, and providing more rehabilitation programs for inmates.

Thunder Bay Correctional Centre worker and OPSEU Local 708 president  Shawn Bradshaw said understaffing has led to inadequate programming at the facility, and that rehabilitation programs are almost non-existent at the Thunder Bay District Jail. 

“Not having these programs is detrimental, because these guys all have release dates,” Bradshaw said.

“They're all getting out eventually. They're all going to be in the community. They're going to be your neighbours. They're going to be on the streets with you."
Shawn Bradshaw, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union local that represents officers at the Thunder Bay jail, says "the levels of violence that we're seeing in the institutions and the access to tools just don't correlate." (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Bradshaw added he believes the corrections system has reached a tipping point in Canada.

"We're seeing conditions that are inhumane. We're seeing conditions that are unsafe for both staff and inmates. We're seeing a spike in violence ... all across the province."

Making rehabilitation a priority

The union’s blueprint for reforming the system calls for effective rehabilitation programs that will help inmates change their lives — something that is critical for public safety

“At some point, they're going back into our communities,” said Michael Lundy, a correctional officer at the Thunder Bay District Jail and president of OPSEU Local 737.

“I see these guys out at the malls. I see them out at restaurants I take my family to."

The Thunder Bay District Jail is overcrowded, Lundy said. There are three people living in cells designed for two people, which leads to increased risk of violence.
Thunder Bay correctional officer Michael Lundy says programs to help inmates change their lives are critical for public safety. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"I know, personally speaking, if I had to sleep with two of my colleagues in a little small cell like that, there would probably be some sort of problems."

Lundy added the jail’s design doesn't allow for a "direct supervision" model, which is more of an open concept that allows for more interaction between the corrections officers and the offenders. This model is considered more secure because there's always an officer present.

"We work in aging buildings that weren't built for what we do,” Lundy continued, noting the jail doesn’t have sufficient room for rehabilitation programming.

"Essentially, the term ‘corrections’ means to fix a mistake ... but we're offering nothing to correct and to fix ... [inmates'] way of thinking. We don't offer anger management, we don't offer anti-criminal thinking,” he said.

“To me, even if I didn't work in corrections, as a member of society, my expectation is when someone's incarcerated that the people that are in care, control and custody of that person are also offering him a chance to change, to become better, to become a contributing member to society."

The lack of rehabilitation programs is a problem in jails and correctional facilities across the province, Lundy noted, and “more mentally ill offenders [are] coming into our facilities than ever before.”

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