Our recent attention has focused on Ontario’s provincial jail system. The corrections arm of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is a ‘soft target’, providing rich fodder for complaint, and we could reasonably argue it’s a composter feeding a garden from which we harvest a cornucopia of colourful information to support a critical eye.
One inmate’s judgement that ‘corrections’ does not correct was equally directed at both federal prisons as well as this province’s jails, but the Ontario system’s lack of transparency and accountability make CSCS a particularly menacing Leviathan, an antithesis of the community safety branch of the same government office.
Only by chance did we come across Dan Taekema’s Toronto Star article, “Inmates protest against more lockdowns at Toronto South Detention Centre” published on Friday, June 10 in the on-line edition of the paper.
On Thursday evening, June 9, as many as 160 inmates from the four units on the third floor refused to return to their cells for a lockdown by sitting peacefully in the prison’s yard. The protest was a demonstration against one inmate’s description of “inhumane conditions” because of frustration over frequent lockdowns. This has been an ongoing issue since the superjail opened two years ago, and is a particular problem at Toronto South where lockdowns are frequent (did we say ‘frequent’) and can last for hours or sometimes days.
For public consumption, Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson for the ministry, and OPSEU correction’s division chair Monte Vieselmeyer passed Thursday night’s protest off almost as routine operational procedure. Staff and inmates on the ground saw it differently. The crisis intervention team was brought in, “they got rough with everybody”, according to one account, and guards said the inmates involved were “going through hell.” One inmate’s take: “The guards are tearing the whole place upside-down, taking everyone’s stuff, their clothes and leaving them all in their shorts. They take their mattresses and leave them in their cells with the hatches closed. TVs are off, no phone, no showers for God knows how many days.”
Monte Vieselmeyer explained it was a “peaceful protest” but said he wasn’t sure why the inmates were protesting. We couldn’t leave that uncontested:-
June 28, 2016
Chair, Corrections Division,
100 Lesmill Road,
Toronto, ON M3B 3P8
Re: How was Mars?
The on-line Toronto Star for June 10 ran Dan Taekema’s “Inmates protest against more lockdowns at Toronto South Detention Centre.” In this piece, you weren’t sure why the inmates were protesting!
You were once on staff at TSDC, and may still be. There’s no Toronto South guard, civilian employee, administrator, lawyer, social/health care worker, volunteer, professional or family visitor, inmate, CSCS minister, deputy minister, or assistant minister who is not familiar with the relentless pattern of lockdowns there, as there are also at other provincial institutions.
Courts are equally well-informed. Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray awarded two Maplehurst inmates $85K last month over the lockdown issue. Also in May, Ontario Court Justice Mary Hogan was prepared to award a TSDC inmate an enhanced credit for time served until his defence and the Crown came to terms on a sentence. Lockdowns are why the media has paid so much attention to Ontario jails.
It’s claimed most lockdowns result from staff shortages, and CSCS has begun a long overdue hiring blitz to address the problem. But, there is another cause of staff shortages; that is, the number of uniformed staff members who do not report for work as scheduled. Access to Information requests indicate dozens of employees are sometimes absent from Toronto South. No doubt the same is true in other jails.
With the clamour over lockdowns, one wonders just where you’ve been to have missed it all.
Charles H. Klassen
blind copies (The blind copies went to CSCS Minister David Orazietti, TSDC Superintendent Mike Wasylyk, and the Toronto Star’s Dan Taekema.