Union says assaults and abuse against correctional officers exploding

Being a correctional officer is a dangerous job on most days, but has been getting worse, according to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents guards in federal prisons across the country.Prison guards are kicked, punched, spit on and even slashed, said James Bloomfield, Prairies region president for the union, in an interview at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon on Wednesday.”My job as a correctional officer is not to be assaulted,” Bloomfield said. “It is not to stand here and be a punching bag. That is absolutely unacceptable.”He said the accumulative damage hurts the workers’ mental health.”There is a crisis within our service, a mental health injury crisis, and an assault crisis,” he said.The union and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) have been negotiating on a contract for two years. The union says it is lobbying for better working conditions.CBC reached out to CSC for comment, but did not hear back before publication time.Bloomfield said research shows that more than half of correctional officers in Canada have a mental health injury within five years of starting service. He also said assaults are most frequent in Saskatchewan.The union provided a federal document showing a year-by-year breakdown of assaults against officers at federal institutions. The year-long 2023-24 reporting period had 122 assaults on officers at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, while the 2022-23 year had 51.Bloomfield said he’s suffered from a mental health injury himself, and that many others are struggling with PTSD and depression.He said drugs being thrown in or flown in with drones have escalated the violence.Jake Suelzle, Prairies region vice-president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officer, said he’s faced physical assaults that were hard to recover from. (CBC News)Jake Suelzle, the union’s regional vice-president, said he has had his own encounters with violence as a correctional officer.”Someone very close to my life, my domestic partner, was assaulted in the course of her duties,” he said. “She was taken hostage by an inmate and assaulted in the workplace.”He said the pride that comes with being a correctional officer is what drives him to continue working despite the violence and abuse he’s faced.”Being assaulted is not a part of a job, it’s not a part of the job description. And as long as we work with an employer that will allow that to happen, somebody needs to stand up and say it doesn’t need to be this way and we won’t allow it to be this way any longer,” he said.The union had scheduled a protest for Wednesday, but postponed it due to bad weather. It plans to rally on April 23 instead.Bloomfield said leadership at the Correctional Service of Canada is aware of the issues, but choose to do nothing.”There’s just a refusal to address any of the issues,” he said.There were 122 assaults on officers at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon in a year, according to a federal document provided by the union. (CBC News)Both Bloomfield and Suelzle want to see repercussions for inmates who assault officers and more mental health support in the aftermath.They want designated spaces to place people with behavioural concerns after an assault, instead of allowing them to be with other inmates.

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