A shift in thinking

Alisha Morrissey & James McLeod
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Correctional officers' issues partially addressed, though 24-hour shifts are still being worked

Part 2 in a four-part series
When she was a corrections officer, Susan Clarkin says an eight-hour shift was about all she could manage.

The volunteer 12-hour shifts were too long and she'd start losing her patience, so she didn't do them often.

A correctional officer locks a cell at Her Majesty's Penitentiary - Telegram file photo

Part 2 in a four-part series

When she was a corrections officer, Susan Clarkin says an eight-hour shift was about all she could manage.

The volunteer 12-hour shifts were too long and she'd start losing her patience, so she didn't do them often.

Correctional officers in this province sometimes work 24 hours straight.

Clarkin is now an instructor at Holland College's corrections officer training program in P.E.I., and says it's easier to prepare recruits to work in antiquated prisons than it is to prepare them for 24-hour shifts.

"At the end of the day, you're just mentality and physically exhausted ... 24 hours, that's outrageous," she says. "There's such a high turnover ... there's a high burnout rate. Something like that would be very hard to overcome."

One of the most strongly worded recommendations from the Decades of Darkness report into this province's correctional system was about 24-hour shifts. The report called for the immediate end to the practice due to potential liability issues, describing it as "totally unacceptable."

But correctional officers at many facilities are still working those shifts.

"To believe that someone can function at any appropriate level after working 16 hours straight is not realistic," the report says.

According to the panel that wrote the report, the Justice Department could be held liable if staff were working 24-hour shifts and something happened in prison and they reacted inappropriately, or even if they had a car accident on the way home.

When the report was released last year, the only facility that didn't have correctional officers working 24-hour shifts was the West Coast Correctional Centre in Stephenville, where shifts were extended by four hours when necessary and the next shift would be called in early.

According to Justice Minister Felix Collins, the practice has been "reduced significantly" as a result of the report's recommendations.

"They have not been reduced entirely, for the simple reason that they come up. ... If something happens in the penitentiary and they haven't got the people to come in, you have people in 24-hour shifts. That will be relieved considerably in the future," Collins said, explaining that 52 new on-call correctional officers have been trained and hired.

The government is in the process of hiring 12 more officers - six men, six women - and a class of 27 officers who graduated last week have also been hired.

"Certainly, once you go beyond 12 hours, nobody is as effective as they could be," Collins says.

The justice minister said once staffing levels are stable, 24-hour shifts may be eliminated completely.

The province is required by law to have a certain number of female officers working at each of the province's facilities, since it has been determined that having staff of both genders provides a better living and working environment. That requirement contributes to the number of 24-hour shifts being worked, since if a certain number of women aren't available in an emergency, others have to work the longer shifts.

The Justice Department has been investigating ways to promote corrections as a career choice for women.

The Decades of Darkness report raised other issues about correctional officers' working conditions, but some of them, including the use of seniority, will have to wait until the officers' union negotiates a new collective agreement.

Many of the report's recommendations will be resolved with the new hires. The Justice Department has also provided training in mental health, autism awareness, officer safety, criminal intelligence and institutional emergency response.

Safety measures have been put in place for staff at all institutions - including issuing stab-resistant vests and collapsible batons for outside escorts - and the department is reviewing corrections culture to create a better work environment.

Bill Ranson, an addictions services co-ordinator with the John Howard Society, says the improvements for correctional officers has had a spillover effect on the prisoners he works with.

"There's some people there now who do see a different atmosphere there and I think the word to use is hope. ... (Officers had) been given a voice through the process of doing the report and people were listening to them ...," Ranson says.

"That was a tremendous thing, a very powerful thing for them."

Back in P.E.I., Clarkin says she'd like to see more done for correctional officers, and not just in this province.

"I think corrections is a line of work where people should have more time off, more sick days than regular-Joe-type jobs, but again, that's in a perfect world."

Training to become a correctional officer includes spending time in a simulated prison, sometimes with hired actors playing inmates. Recruits tour federal and provincial prisons, do on-the-job training and discuss coping methods.

"We can only do so much," Clarkin says. "We just outline the different kinds of institutions, where the newer styles are mostly geared towards family-unit living or direct supervision - where the officers are actually living in there with the offenders, and we instruct them how to manage that type of unit, but we also keep ... saying, 'You know, not all the institutions have come up to this.'"

When new graduates are hired, there is more training at the specific facility, Clarkin explained.

The largest class on record is going through the training program now.

"We tell them it's a difficult job," she says.

"We repeat that day in and day out. It's not for everyone, and pretty much we tell the students that if you're not really serious about being correctional officers, then it's not for you. Because it's not just you go and make your cookies for the morning-type thing."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com jmcleod@thetelegram.com




Tomorrow: Part 3 - Change the program

Prisoners have been asking for ways to improve themselves for years. The province has been saying for years it's going to make the system better for prisoners. Who's learning what?

Organizations: Holland College, Justice Department, West Coast Correctional Centre John Howard Society

Geographic location: Stephenville

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Give me a break is an example of someone who doesnt support defenders of public security. As a taxpayer im glad these officers are there to protect us. Obviously GMAB doesnt have the decency to at least show support for these officers. Its a testament of some peoples morals and values I guess. I hope they get better working conditions as promised and wish them all the seasons best from law abiding respectful citizens across our province.

  • confused
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Like i said ,,,,,media people talk to the Correctional Officers,,a counsellor from John Howard society knows nothing about the life of a CO,,,,,and this Mrs Clarkin who the hell are you and why are you even being interviewed about a place you havent worked in,,,,,come on Telegram you can do better than that, you should of had Russell Wangersky do this article he is the man for this job, very intelligent and tells it like it is,,,isnt that what the public deserves when they spend money on a newspaper ..the truth!!!24 hour shifts are difficult im sure but from what i have heard from people who work there is that you work a 12 hour shift and about an hour before you get off you are told you have to stay until 12 o'clock, this happens all the time, and 24 hour shifts are not as frequent apparently, The workers at the Pen work every second weekend and are always placed on stand-by for there weekends off. So it appears to me 24 hour shifts are not as big of an issue as being portrayed in this article its the extra four hours they have to work every few shifts!!! Im sure the workers would like to go home to there familys after a 12 hour shift in that place,,wouldnt you???

  • Reality
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    CO's have to be on their toes and alert. They need to be able to pay attention to body language and understand when a safe situation may turn dangerous. They are in charge of both their safety and that of inmates.

    Nobody is fully alert on hour 13. They should not be working 24 hour shifts. There has to be a cost effective solution to this.

  • tired worker
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    The corrections officers are always under scrutiny by the public when something happens at HMP. Its time for the public to support these workers who walk the toughest beat in the province! The RNC nad RCMP are routinely praised in the public eye ,but the corrections officers are the ones who actually deal with the criminals and are outnumbered and in harms way all the time. You dont see them sitting in Tim Hortons !

  • Tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Heather from Mt. Pearl.

    Last time I checked a teacher is in the school before the students arrive and leave after the students leave, so that works out to be about 9 hours a day, not counting their prep time they do in the evenings, reading papers and correcting tests. If your going to open your mouth, at least have a slight clue about what the hell your talking about.

  • the truth
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    The truth is that corrections officers are still put on standby on their weekends off , they work 24 hr shifts still. They are placed on holdbacks an extra 4 hrs after your 12 hr shift. They are still being harassed over sick leave! As for safety issues the officers have vests but no batons or o.c. spray on their sides. Only outside escorts are permitted to have this when most of the trouble happens inside the prison. There have been several assaults on officers in the last month and one where an officer was almost thrown over a railing and would have been hurt or killed if he fell. These staff members didnt have batons or o.c. spray on their sides and the management should be held accountable if anything happens to these people . They sugar coat the place , but the staff is at risk and the inmates are in danger due to more shanks being found and overcrowding. The staff havent seen the light and the darkness continues. By the way recently the managers warned the staff about being in the media and emailing etc or they will be disciplined. Why? What are they afraid the truth will get out there in the public and tarnish their image.

  • Heather
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Bet the COs are not getting near the pay of other Public employees - like grossly overpaid teachers who work about 6 hours a day and still complain about how stressfull it is. Perhaps the Prov Govt should do a complete overhaul of public wages and then maybe there would be some money in the coffers to hire more COs. Nobody should have to work more than a twelve hour shift and except in cases of dire emergencies should not be on standby scheduled days off.

  • give me a break...
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    boo who :( Poor 'ol CO's. Want some cheese to go with the whine??

  • taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Give me a break is an example of someone who doesnt support defenders of public security. As a taxpayer im glad these officers are there to protect us. Obviously GMAB doesnt have the decency to at least show support for these officers. Its a testament of some peoples morals and values I guess. I hope they get better working conditions as promised and wish them all the seasons best from law abiding respectful citizens across our province.

  • confused
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Like i said ,,,,,media people talk to the Correctional Officers,,a counsellor from John Howard society knows nothing about the life of a CO,,,,,and this Mrs Clarkin who the hell are you and why are you even being interviewed about a place you havent worked in,,,,,come on Telegram you can do better than that, you should of had Russell Wangersky do this article he is the man for this job, very intelligent and tells it like it is,,,isnt that what the public deserves when they spend money on a newspaper ..the truth!!!24 hour shifts are difficult im sure but from what i have heard from people who work there is that you work a 12 hour shift and about an hour before you get off you are told you have to stay until 12 o'clock, this happens all the time, and 24 hour shifts are not as frequent apparently, The workers at the Pen work every second weekend and are always placed on stand-by for there weekends off. So it appears to me 24 hour shifts are not as big of an issue as being portrayed in this article its the extra four hours they have to work every few shifts!!! Im sure the workers would like to go home to there familys after a 12 hour shift in that place,,wouldnt you???

  • Reality
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    CO's have to be on their toes and alert. They need to be able to pay attention to body language and understand when a safe situation may turn dangerous. They are in charge of both their safety and that of inmates.

    Nobody is fully alert on hour 13. They should not be working 24 hour shifts. There has to be a cost effective solution to this.

  • tired worker
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    The corrections officers are always under scrutiny by the public when something happens at HMP. Its time for the public to support these workers who walk the toughest beat in the province! The RNC nad RCMP are routinely praised in the public eye ,but the corrections officers are the ones who actually deal with the criminals and are outnumbered and in harms way all the time. You dont see them sitting in Tim Hortons !

  • Tom
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Heather from Mt. Pearl.

    Last time I checked a teacher is in the school before the students arrive and leave after the students leave, so that works out to be about 9 hours a day, not counting their prep time they do in the evenings, reading papers and correcting tests. If your going to open your mouth, at least have a slight clue about what the hell your talking about.

  • the truth
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    The truth is that corrections officers are still put on standby on their weekends off , they work 24 hr shifts still. They are placed on holdbacks an extra 4 hrs after your 12 hr shift. They are still being harassed over sick leave! As for safety issues the officers have vests but no batons or o.c. spray on their sides. Only outside escorts are permitted to have this when most of the trouble happens inside the prison. There have been several assaults on officers in the last month and one where an officer was almost thrown over a railing and would have been hurt or killed if he fell. These staff members didnt have batons or o.c. spray on their sides and the management should be held accountable if anything happens to these people . They sugar coat the place , but the staff is at risk and the inmates are in danger due to more shanks being found and overcrowding. The staff havent seen the light and the darkness continues. By the way recently the managers warned the staff about being in the media and emailing etc or they will be disciplined. Why? What are they afraid the truth will get out there in the public and tarnish their image.

  • Heather
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Bet the COs are not getting near the pay of other Public employees - like grossly overpaid teachers who work about 6 hours a day and still complain about how stressfull it is. Perhaps the Prov Govt should do a complete overhaul of public wages and then maybe there would be some money in the coffers to hire more COs. Nobody should have to work more than a twelve hour shift and except in cases of dire emergencies should not be on standby scheduled days off.

  • give me a break...
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    boo who :( Poor 'ol CO's. Want some cheese to go with the whine??