HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. — The union representing correctional officers is concerned with overcrowding at the Labrador Correctional Centre (LCC).
NAPE president Jerry Earl said they’ve been hearing about the issue across several facilities, including the LCC.
“There seems to be an issue with the capacity of the facility, which has been met or exceeded for a period of time,” he told The Labradorian.
He said the facility, which is now three decades old, was originally built for a capacity of 38 and that’s quite often met or exceeded.
“There are times I understand when it’s up to 53 inmates there,” Earl noted. “Now that’s not uncommon throughout the prison system. That then comes with a number of concerns.”
Earl said safety of both the prison population and staff are the biggest concerns and overcrowding can have a ripple effect. It’s not as simple as just calling another correctional officer in, he said, there are a certain number of correctional officers in the area and they can only work so much.
“So, we have concerns with (staff) working additional hours, working beyond their normal shift and then that places an additional strain on them,” Earl explained. “Anything from psychical to mental health strain on staff, so it’s a pretty broad concern.”
The union president said they have met with a variety of officials from the Department of Justice about the issue and have an open line of communication with the current minister, Andrew Parsons.
Parsons said they are aware of a capacity issue and have a few different plans in place, including an analysis of the facility, which $100,000 was set aside for in the last budget.
“It’s planning money, basically, is what it is,” Parsons said. “They come in and do an analysis and to look at possible options.
“What are the options, what are the possibilities, what are the costs that come with it? We’re also at the same time looking at ways outside of that, we’re looking at our current setup and seeing is there a way to accommodate this need that’s growing?”
Earl said one of the things they have been working with the province on is recruitment. He said the biggest issues are finding the people and then being able to keep them here. One of the ways they’re looking at combating that is holding a correctional officer training course in Labrador.
“Recruiting people who live in (Happy Valley) Goose Bay would make them more apt to stay once they train and obtain employment,” Earl said. “And that would work anywhere in the province.”
Parsons confirmed they are looking into holding the course in Labrador and agreed it would make retention more likely. He said the rising numbers in correctional institutions across the province point to a bigger issue, however.
“We have capacity issues basically across the province and what it comes down to is you can build a bigger box, but if you’re not addressing the numbers that are going in and the increase in numbers you’re going to end up with the same problem down the road,” according to Parsons.
He said the province needs to look into the root causes of the increase in prison population, such as mental health and addictions.