© METRO HALIFAX
The Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside.
About a week after the province released a review into a group stabbing at the Central Nova Correctional Facility, an officer at the jail said he feels front-line staff were used as “scapegoats.”
The review of the June incident in which five men allegedly severely assaulted Thomas Ted Barrett of Cape Breton in a cell with makeshift weapons, sending him to hospital with over 40 wounds, suggested an operating procedure that states offenders can’t be in a cell they’re not assigned to wasn’t followed, which the officer said made him feel “demoralized.”
“That procedure is an unenforceable [one],” the officer said, who asked that his name not be used.
“We’re trying to make something work that’s not working.”
He said five staff work in a unit with up to 162 offenders, so it’s not possible to ensure all inmates are in their cell.
“They look for scapegoats, they look for people to blame … instead of looking at the root problem.”
Barrett had just been moved into a new dayroom which has cells attached to it, when he was called into a cell and allegedly assaulted, the officer said.
The officer said this incident, and other stabbings or officer injuries which the public are often unaware of, are symptoms of the larger issues of understaffing and a lack of tools like pepper spray and handcuffs for every guard.
He said the jail was built for 272 men, but 350 are often placed there with admitting and discharging rooms used as long-term housing cells although they have no proper shower or phone access.
“We run the building on minimum staffing daily,” he said.
“We have next to no control. It can be very dangerous,” the officer said and described occasions where he’s found himself surrounded by inmates in a room and had to quickly leave, or had inmates laugh when he asked them to follow a rule.
Guards often work 16-hour shifts, he said, which usually are never planned and the employees are often told to stay on just before they were scheduled to leave due to an unexpected search or other reason.
He said the “staffing-level crisis” means applications for vacation or leave are always denied because there’s no one to fill shifts, and work refusals often happen when dangerous situations come up and the proper gear can’t be found or they’re short-staffed late at night.
“Everything mounts up and there’s so much tension there it’s sad,” he said.
Reclassifying the jail as a remand centre with more restrictions like locking in the dayrooms would help keep everyone safe, the officer said, and estimated about 80 per cent of the offenders are on remand waiting for their court case to happen.
The officer said it’s frustrating to only see attention directed towards the jail when drugs are found or fights break out, because the questions revolve around what the guards did or did not do.
“We’re very bitter because of it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how hard we do our job, they’re going to find a fault with it.”