Labrador prison staff overworked, neglected: officer

James McLeod
Published on August 22, 2013
The Labrador Correctional Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
— TC Media file photo

A prison guard at the Labrador Correctional Centre is sounding the alarm about working conditions in the facility, saying that officers are overworked, undertrained, poorly managed and forgotten in the Big Land.

The correctional officer, speaking to The Telegram on the condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media, said that in Labrador, prison guards are often required to work a 16-hour shift, and then after an eight-hour break they’re back at work for another 12- or 16-hour day.

“The staff here are getting burnt out at a young age, and they’re either going to transfer out of here or walk away,” the officer told The Telegram.

“There’s some days you can just feel the tension in the air. Staff are getting just burnt out.”

Normally, prisons in the province rely on call-in casuals to cover shifts when the facility needs extra staff, but in Labrador they’re having trouble finding trained casuals.

“No casual is going to come up on their own, because you know, the cost of living is high here now because of the boom of the Lower Churchill. You can’t get an apartment for less than $1,200 a month,” the officer said.

The situation could get worse. In the Labrador Correctional Centre, the hospital and segregation unit are only opened if they need to put an inmate in there. If that happens, despite being short-staffed, officers will need to be pulled off regular duty to staff those units.

“Knock on wood — it’s been pretty quiet down to our workplace with regard to segregation not being open, or the hospital, but that could open up at any time,” the officer said. “Somebody could be put into the hospital or segregation and we don’t have the staff.”

Moreover, since June, the Labrador prison has been without an assistant superintendent, who would normally be the top manager at the facility.

“We’ve got five different lieutenants with five different ways on how they run that prison. They really don’t have anyone to answer to,” the officer said.

“The superintendent of prisons is supposed to visit this place at least once a year. To my knowledge, he hasn’t been here since 2011.”

Justice Minister Darin King did not speak to The Telegram for this story, but a statement was provided by a spokesman for the government on his behalf.

“There were no correctional officer positions cut at the Labrador Correctional Centre as a result of this year’s budget. There have been vacancies created in various institutions throughout the province though due to retirements,” the statement said.

“We acknowledge though that as we have worked through the process of filling vacancies, some officers have been working additional hours. This practice will diminish as we add people to our casual list. We have great confidence in our staff at all levels and their professionalism and commitment they continue to show is exceptional.”

New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers has raised concerns about the Labrador prison in the past. She said overworking officers is a serious concern, and a waste of money.

“I think when you have workers who are really tired, who are burnt out, that would affect the morale. I would think it would affect their ability to do their work,” Rogers said. “It’s not sustainable to work your people to the bone.”

Rogers said the government must be paying out a lot in overtime pay; the government spokesman said he did not have specific overtime figures.

Another area of concern for correctional officers in Labrador is regularly scheduled training; the officer speaking to The Telegram said that first aid, use of force and suicide intervention refresher training isn’t done regularly.

“If something happens at work today or tonight or whatever, and I’m found guilty of too much force or not enough force,” the officer said, “Who’s at fault? Is it me for overstepping my boundaries or is it the department’s fault for not providing me with the right training?”

On that point, the Department of Justice spokesman did not specify how frequently officers get refresher training, or whether any officers’ certification is expired.

“There are certified people at the Labrador Correctional Centre available to provide training in the use of force, first aid and CPR when it is required,” the spokesman said. “This is no different than at any other correctional facility in the province.”

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