OPSEU calls the Kenora Jail situation a powder keg

“The Kenora Jail is the most overcrowded institution in the province, with the lowest officer-to-inmate ratio. The ministry’s announcement gives no timeline for deployment of new staff to Kenora. With so few officers watching over so many inmates, the jail has become a human powder keg. Immediate measures must be taken.” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Kenora (16 Oct. 2020) — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), says some special attention is urgently needed to bolster staffing at the overcrowded Kenora Jail.

Overcrowding to the point where 4 inmates share cell for 1

Thomas says the government’s recent announcement to hire 500 new full-time correctional staff is a step in the right direction, but staffing levels in Kenora aren’t keeping up with rising inmate population numbers.

“The Kenora Jail is the most overcrowded institution in the province, with the lowest officer-to-inmate ratio,” he noted. “The ministry’s announcement gives no timeline for deployment of new staff to Kenora. With so few officers watching over so many inmates, the jail has become a human powder keg. Immediate measures must be taken.”

The Kenora Jail is almost a century old and sometimes houses as many as 4 inmates in tiny cells built for 1.

New hires urgently needed

“We’ve got 58 full-time officer positions but just 37 officers,” said Wade Sutherland, President of OPSEU Local 719. “10 casuals fill in, leaving us 11 officers short — and that doesn’t include absences for training, vacation, occupational illness, etc. We urgently need new hires in Kenora.”

OPSEU Corrections Division MERC Co-Chair Chris Jackel says the government’s move to hire more staff province-wide will help in the long term, but some immediate fixes are needed in some areas now. “This is a good small step in addressing some of the concerns of inmates, staff and communities, but much more needs to be done as soon as possible. The government has announced 500 new full-time officer positions. Let’s get some of the boots on the ground in Kenora and around the North.”

Some shifts as long as 24 hours

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer, a correctional officer, agreed, noting that the North is often a neglected part of the province. “I’m very pleased the government is acting to respond to the concerns of Indigenous inmates and leaders — concerns echoed by OPSEU. But we just can’t stop there. We had a hostage-taking incident at the Kenora Jail 2 years ago. We’re not waiting around for the next one.”

In addition to security risks, Thomas questioned the effects on staff health. “Some officers are working 6 days a week, sometimes 16-hour days, even 24-hour shifts,” said Thomas. “This is not just unsustainable, it’s completely unfair to our members and their families, and a recipe for disaster. Let’s implement stronger retention and recruitment strategies to get those new recruits to the North — before it’s too late.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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