A report from Ontario’s independent corrections adviser has made a number of recommendations aimed at making jails safer, in response to an increase in reported inmate-on-staff violence at the province’s correctional institutions.
In a report released Thursday, Howard Sapers makes 42 recommendations to the province’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, including overhauling data management, improving workplace culture and enhancing training for correctional employees.
Sapers and his team said such reforms could significantly improve the safety of employees and inmates.
“Public safety work can be stressful. Being in conflict with the law can be stressful. Ignoring these obvious realities when we hire, train, and manage corrections staff — and build and operate our prisons and jails — bring serious consequences, including violence,” the report states.
Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said she is reviewing the report and its recommendations, but she reiterated the Progressive Conservative government’s pledge to move ahead with correctional reform.
“The government has been clear in our commitment to moving forward to reform the correctional services across this province,” Jones said in a statement, adding that the Sapers report will be made public on the ministry’s website in early January.
Jones also said she will be in regular contact with the province’s frontline corrections officers to determine how to implement the report’s recommendations.
According to the ministry’s own findings, reports of inmate-on-staff violence have increased significantly over the last five years, with about 350 reported cases in 2012 and nearly 1,400 in 2017.
The Sapers report argues that some incident types — such as threats and spitting — may simply be getting reported more frequently, but others — such as physical assaults — cannot be explained in the same way.
The report included survey responses from more than 1,300 staff members from all of Ontario’s 25 correctional institutions, most of whom were corrections officers.
The survey found that just over half of the correctional officers reported that they did not feel safe at work. Two-thirds of respondents in all other positions — such as administrative, housekeeping and support staff — reported that they felt safe at their facility. The report also found that 66 per cent of frontline officers indicated that they worried about being assaulted by an inmate at least once a week.
Meantime, 26 per cent of respondents said use of force was a “key mechanism” in keeping their institution safe.
“A general punitive and discipline-oriented philosophy, particularly among correctional officers, emerged from responses,” the report states.
“Given the ministry’s emphasis on using force as a last resort, this finding highlights the need for greater emphasis on verbal de-escalation and defusion skills in staff training.”
Sapers also criticized the ministry for focusing on increasing the hiring of correctional officers rather than updated training, saying that over half of correctional officer respondents reported that they did not feel prepared to start working immediately after being hired.
In 2016, the ministry committed to hiring 2,000 officers over three years.
The findings also revealed inconsistencies in how violent incidents are reported to the ministry, and the report’s 42 recommendations include a call for an overhaul of how the ministry collects and analyses reported incidents of violence.
The report also urged that programs and treatments options be enhanced for inmates.