November 23, 2001
Is MTC falling apart at the seams?
Hunger strikes, riots and resignations plague superjail
Is the Ontario government’s grand “experiment” with private jails beginning to derail? With the news that has come out in the last two weeks, many must be wondering whether predictions of failure are about to come true.
When inmates were first moved into the superjail two weeks ago, the Ministry of Correctional Services kept up its tradition of arrogance by failing to inform Penetanguishene town council. Stunned councilors were caught flat-footed trying to answer reporter’s questions. As Deputy Mayor Randy Robbins eloquently put
it, “I can find out more about what’s happening at that jail at the Tim Horton’s across the street, than I can from the government.”
With only a few dozen inmates in a jail designed to hold nearly 1,200, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) already had trouble brewing. The inmates went on a hunger strike, complaining about a lack of coats to go outside in cold weather, the lack of heat in the building and having only one blanket to ward
off the chill, and getting only one packet of sugar with their black coffee and cereal at breakfast. Although these issues sound petty, they can seem enormous when you are spending time behind bars.
So how does MTC “fix” this situation? In the case of the winter coats, the private operator drove to the Barrie Jail and took coats from them. MTC also helped themselves to bulletproof vests, two property safes and a Ministry van. It’s not hard to figure out why MTC’s bid was so low, especially when it appears
that they can shop for free at public facilities.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, a reporter from the Barrie Examiner tried to contact an inmate at the jail. A staff member said the facility could not take messages for inmates.
“We are not set up to take messages for prisoners. This is not a government jail now. Things have changed,” said an unnamed employee quoted in the Examiner. “There are going to be 1,200 inmates in here and we can’t take messages for 1,200 inmates,” he said, before hanging up on an “urgent, personal” message for
one of the inmates who arrived in the jail on the previous Saturday. Repeated calls from the reporter went unanswered earlier in the day - no one at the jail picked up the phone.
The inevitable finally occurred on Nov. 18 when approximately 20 of the 68 inmates at the jail rioted, causing damage to some of the plumbing fixtures. Those inmates were moved to segregation, which only has 43 cells.
News reports indicated that a “riot team” had come into the facility and quelled the disturbance. However, no one will indicate who was on that riot team. There has been no evidence that it was Ministry staff, and it is doubtful that MTC has had time to train a proper Institutional Crisis Intervention Team. Was
it the OPP? If so, they may be getting their first experience of what will become a very familiar routine.
There have also been reports of staff resigning at the superjail, namely two nurses who decided to take their chances as on-call staff at Oak Ridges Mental Health Centre. Are they the first of an impending migration? Only time will tell.
Although no new jail operates smoothly from day one, it appears that bad decisions and an inexperienced American operator are contributing to situations that likely would not have occurred in a public facility. So far, as near as we know, no one has gotten hurt. We only hope this remains true, and that the staff
at the superjail will not become victims of a Tory government trying to prove a privatization “point”. Unfortunately, Harris and the Queen’s Park crew have never been very quick to admit when they made a bad call.
Members receive surplus notices
Surplus letters were distributed this week to employees at the Waterloo Detention Centre, Wellington Detention Centre, Brantford Jail, and the four transitional cost centres, Guelph Correctional Centre, Burtch Correctional Centre, Barrie Jail, and the Parry Sound Jail.
These employees have been given November 21st as their “common surplus date”. However, operational requirements will dictate when an employee will actually depart their current facility. For instance, it is anticipated that the Brantford Jail will remain open for a number of months to come. Employees’
redeployment rights are now in effect, however, employees will not receive their severance benefits under the collective agreement until the official decommissioning of a particular facility or the employees’ actual final day of work at the decommissioned institution.
Employees have until 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 make a decision on either redeployment or receiving a severance package. The Ministry will inform employees of their redeployment options on Dec. 10.
The Warrior hits 200
Resolution count up to 268
A personal milestone has been reached by OPSEU’s Resolution Warrior, Len Mason of Local 737 (Thunder Bay Jail).
This week, three more council resolutions supporting public correctional services push the count to 268. The Township of Ashfield-Colbourne-Wawanosh (near Goderich), the Township of McMurrich/Monteith (northwest of Huntsville) and the Township of Joly (near Sundridge) have added their names in support.
On a more important note, the additional three resolutions bring the Warrior’s personal count to 200.
This is a remarkable achievement by a dedicated member who took an idea and made it all his own. Vowing not to quit, Len will continue on this campaign.
We congratulate Len on his outstanding work and perseverance. Members who would like to send a note thanking him for his efforts can e-mail Len at the OPS Bargaining Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For campaign information, call Don Ford (ext. 442) at 1-800-268-7376 or (416) 443-8888.
Ontario Public Service Employees Unionwww.opseu.org
100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8
Original authorized for distribution by Leah Casselman, president.