‘Volatile’ provincial jails leave guards with mental scars – Nova Scotia

Correctional workers in provincial jails say they’re dealing with the agonizing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder as often as those who work in federal prisons.

Jason MacLean, who has been a correctional officer at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility for more than 20 years, said every guard has at least one incident that haunts them at night.

“About 12 years ago, I cut someone down that hung themselves,” said MacLean, who is also president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. “I see that, and I know of my coworkers that it has affected and who are off on post-traumatic stress today. They were working with me that night when that happened.”

A CBC News investigation revealed this week that about one in 20 federal correctional officers have been diagnosed with stress illnesses, including PTSD, in the last five years. The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers believes the real numbers are much higher because many guards don’t report their diagnoses.

The statistics, which were obtained through federal access-to-information laws, are for employees with Correctional Service Canada. They do not cover workers within provincial jail systems across the country.

‘Fighting, brawls’

Federal prisons are for inmates serving sentences of two years or more. Provincial jails are for those serving shorter sentences, or who are being held in custody pending trial.

Joey Guillemette recently went off work with PTSD in Timmins, Ont. The corrections officer has been at the provincially run Monteith Correctional Centre for 18 years. He said problems are heightened in the provincial system.

“Any facility has all of the usual problems, whether it’s fighting, brawls, disturbances, attempted hangings — they all have them,” he said.

“But I think the stressor for provincial staff is being amongst offenders a lot more. It’s more of a one-on-one in provincial than it is in federal.”

Jails more ‘volatile’

The Cape Breton Correctional Facility. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

MacLean agrees that jails can be more “volatile” than federal penitentiaries.

“When you’re looking at provincial, every other day or week you’re at the mercies of the court,” he said. “There’s always movement — people coming and going, and it really changes the dynamic within a facility.

“And you’re dealing with people when they are in that crisis mode, so they’re coming in either coming off of drugs or coming in and dealing with, ‘Wow, I’ve been caught for this or I’ve been accused of this crime.'”

In his current role as president of the Nova Scotia Government and Employees Union, MacLean is pushing for better access to mental-health support through presumptive legislation. It would provide automatic workers’ compensation coverage for correctional officers and other first responders who suffer from PTSD.

In late April, the Nova Scotia Liberals tabled legislation to amend the Workers’ Compensation Act to include presumptive…

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