'Inmate counts at provincial jails continue to significantly exceed capacity – in some cases by as much as 100%.'
Brandon, Man. (6 Oct. 2009) - The weekend riot at the Brandon Correctional Centre (BCC) raises serious health and safety issues for correctional officers and inmates alike at provincial correctional facilities, says the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE).
MGEU President Peter Olfert called Monday for the province to immediately invest in new correctional infrastructure to address growing problems arising from inmate overcrowding in Manitoba.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm about inmate overcrowding in provincial jails for a number of years but to date we’ve seen minimal response from our provincial government,” Olfert told a news conference.
"We met with government officials (Monday) morning about what happened and we told them unequivocally that they cannot continue offering Band-Aid solutions to this problem. We need more beds and that means a new provincial jail.”
Olfert said some one will "get seriously hurt or killed" if the issue is not addressed. “That’s not sensationalizing the issue, it’s a fact," he emphasized.
The incident began at at approximately 12:20 p.m. and lasted several hours. The Brandon Police Service’s Tactical Response Unit assisted in bringing it under control. No correctional officers were injured in the incident, which Olfert characterized as probably the most serious to occur at a provincial jail since the 1996 Headingley riot.
282 inmates instead of 160
Inmate counts at provincial jails continue to significantly exceed capacity – in some cases by as much as 100%. The added burden placed on staff means they are put at increased risk for injury. The Brandon Correctional Centre was originally built to house approximately 160 inmates. At the time of the riot, the institution was housing 282 inmates.
“We know the province has tried to take steps to deal with this like utilizing the gyms or other space within correctional facilities, and they’ve added some additional beds at Milner Ridge,” Olfert said. “But we need a long-term solution to this. My members are telling me they’re surprised that this didn’t happen sooner.”
The MGEU staff and corrections members will continue to meet on this issue over the next few days to determine what steps may need to be taken in the near term. If correctional officers are not satisfied that the province can guarantee their safety at provincial jails they may decide to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work, which is a right guaranteed to them under the Health and Safety Act, Olfert says.
“Correctional officers, like other peace officers, take their responsibilities within the community very seriously and take pride in doing a great job under impossible circumstances,” he adds. “But they also have a responsibility to their families to make it home from work every day.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE