|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 5, 1999
Jail riot was
predicted; Predictions were ignored
TORONTO - Thursday's riot at the Whitby Jail
could have been prevented had the jail administration only listened to its staff, said
OPSEU President Leah Casselman.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union,
which represents provincial correctional officers, said the union's health and safety
committee had raised concerns about losing control of the jail at a meeting the day
"Our members told the administration
that the situation was dangerous and inmates were in a volatile mood. In recent weeks,
inmates have assaulted staff on at least two occasions with minimal repercussions,"
"Tragically, the administration's
response to the uprising just increases the danger to our members. The riot was not
generated by the smoking ban at the Whitby jail, but the decision to give cigarettes to
inmates sends a pretty clear message to anyone held in a non-smoking institution: Riot and
you'll get your smokes.
"As a direct result, the Sault Ste.
Marie jail had to call in extra staff on Friday to ensure the population there didn't get
out of control," Casselman said.
"What happened in Whitby yesterday is
just plain unacceptable. It is pure blind luck that nobody suffered serious
injuries," she said.
Casselman listed a series of things which
contributed to the situation:
The disturbance began at 7:30 a.m., but the
administration waited an hour before calling in police and extra staff reinforcements.
This gave inmates time to arm themselves and get organized.
There are no Institutional Crisis
Intervention Teams (ICITs) in the Greater Toronto Area. Ten years ago, Whitby had its own
ICIT, which won provincial championships. It was eliminated to save money. Help had to be
called in from Millbrook and Maplehurst, adding to the delay.
Staff training in use of batons and aerosols
has been dropped to save money, so the jail couldn't distribute what little control
equipment it had on premises.
Inmates who have been unruly have only had
their fingers rapped. The jail houses high-risk inmates (murderers and bank robbers) who
have little to lose by acting up.
No inmates were charged following two
previous riots in the jail, giving the message that there will be no penalty for violent
behaviour. Front line supervisors with the training to deal with this kind of situation,
are over-ruled by their superiors.
Staffing levels at the jail are below the
"red line" - the number needed to operate safely.
"It's a combination of ill-advised
penny-pinching and bad management, and every single one of those items has been discussed
at our health and safety meetings," Casselman said.
She suggested that the training in control
equipment had been dropped as a way of downgrading the responsibilities of Correctional
Officers, so they could be paid less under a re-evaluation system under way across the
"These skills aren't needed daily, but
when they are needed they are needed instantly."
Casselman called on the ministry and its
administrators to do a little soul-searching over the weekend.
"They got an expensive message at Whitby
on Thursday. They are lucky it was written in dollars, not in blood. What I want them to
do now is talk to us and correct everything that went wrong there, so it doesn't happen
- 30 -
For further information:
Katie FitzRandolph (OPSEU
Communications) 416-448-7440 or home
Leah Casselman (OPSEU President)
Nick Tefoglou (President, Local 359, Whitby Jail) 950-668-7791
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