‘These are issues that have our ongoing attention’: CSC responds concerns about poor working conditions raised by union representing federal corrections officers

(Herald file photo)

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has released a statement saying the organization is aware of issues raised by federal correctional officers prior to a recent protest in Saskatoon, and is working to address them.

Federal corrections officers gathered on Tuesday to protest the high levels of verbal and physical assault they experience in federal penitentiaries. Union leaders have also raised concerns about drug abuse in the penal system, which they believe is contributing to the high levels of violence.

“We acknowledge that correctional staff have challenging jobs, and we appreciate the work they do every day to keep our employees do to keep Canadians safe,” the statement reads. “We are, and will continue, to work with our staff and union partners to ensure safe work environments. These are issues that have our ongoing attention, vigilance and action.”

In an interview prior to the protest, Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) regional president for the prairies James Bloomfield said many corrections officers feel like punching-bags because inmates face so little accountability.

He also raised concerns about drug abuse in institutions like the Saskatchewan Federal Penitentiary just outside Prince Albert, particularly Suboxone, a drug originally created to decrease the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms.

In their statement, the CSC said they have developed a multi-prong approach reduce the risks of contraband. The efforts include intelligence investigations, searches of offenders and their cells, and the use of technological tools such as ion scanners. The CSC also uses detector dogs, and works closely with police partners across Canada to reduce drug abuse, the statement reads.

“We know that our priority to maintain safe institutions can be undermined by the introduction of unauthorized materials in CSC institutions, such as contraband, which can lead to increased violence and impact ongoing efforts towards rehabilitation,” reads the CSC statement.

“We have ongoing, long-standing relationships with union partners and continue to work together on solutions to these important issues, such as the safety and security of their members.”

UCCO reports that 55 per cent of federal correctional officers have suffered a work-related mental health injury.

In an interview, Bloomfield said understaffing is already a problem, and it’s getting even worse as poor work conditions make it difficult to recruit new members.

He said many corrections officers don’t feel like their concerns are being heard.

“(It’s) just ‘write a report and good luck,’” Bloomfield said. “There is no accountability for that person who commits that assault. On the streets, they’d be arrested and go to jail, but when they’re already in jail, that’s where the policies need to take over to help us with some behavioural concerns, and our employer is not helping us with that at all.”

The Saskatchewan Penitentiary is a clustered institution with minimum, medium, and maximum security facilities. It is one of 12 CSC facilities in the Prairie Region. The CSC also operates Willow Cree Healing Lodge near Duck Lake.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca