Overcrowding, discrimination identified in review of South West Detention Centre

·2 min read
Overcrowding is one of the issues identified in a report on the South West Detention Centre in Windsor. (CBC News - image credit)
Overcrowding is one of the issues identified in a report on the South West Detention Centre in Windsor. (CBC News - image credit)

A review of conditions at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor by the Centre for Conflict Resolution International Ltd. has identified problems with overcrowding, discrimination and poor management practices.

The existence of the report was first revealed by the Windsor Star.

"Damaging, that's probably the best word to describe it. We're all pretty damaged inside the jail," said corrections officer Katrina DiGiacinto, who is also president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 135, which represents officers working at the facility.

DiGiacinto said employee voices aren't important to management.

"The staff on the ground level that do the grunt work — we don't have a lot of say anymore. What we say almost doesn't matter," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, outbreaks lasting months and inmates complaining about overcrowding have the workers worried for their safety, DiGiacinto said.

"I feel like the employer has failed in that aspect in providing us the safety we require everyday on our daily basis to go home to our families every night," she said.

DiGiacinto said she can't provide examples without jeopardizing security at the building.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General said in a statement to CBC News that it is reviewing the report's recommendations, including a roundtable discussion with leadership and the union, developing an action plan with measurable solutions that they'll revisit within a year of completion, and training for leadership.

More than 350 people participated in the third-party review, which was paid for by the province.

According to the review's executive summary:

  • Senior leaders are either absent or heavy-handed in dealing with workplace challenges that lead to a culture of fear and distrust in leadership.

  • The approach leadership has taken to disputes over an increased inmate population, workplace safety and staff shortages has been described by many as top-down and non-collaborative.

DiGiacinto said the union is working with a new superintendent now on site to improve relationships, but they both realize it will take time.

Meanwhile, an official with OPSEU said the issues are long-standing, adding that resource and staffing issues have been flagged for years. After catching up a bit, difficulties have returned.

"Now we're significantly short-staffed again right across the board, and morale is way way down in institutions now, and this is kind of the cyclical cycle that we're stuck in," said Chad Oldfield, who sits on the ministry-employee relations committee for OPSEU.