Dan Sidsworth, a union representative for the corrections and parole officers in Ontario, spoke about overcrowding and understaffing at jails in the province, which he said is leading to more assaults on guards, during an Ontario Public Service Employees Union rally outside the North Bay Jail.
Credits: DAVE DALE/QMI AGENCY
Dan Sidsworth, provincial chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union's corrections division, expects to be gagged by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services any day now after speaking out about increasing violence and other concerns plaguing the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre and other prisons around the province.
"They would like us to stop using (social media) so they can control the flow of information," Sidsworth said. "Our message to the public is, we're at our breaking point."
Several employees have received letters from the ministry about their social media and media use, Sidsworth said.
Corrections workers are frustrated at what they say is increasing violence and overcrowding conditions in prisons. They expect the problems to worsen under the so-called omnibus crime legislation.
Sidsworth has used social media, like Twitter, for at least two years while other union representatives have also turned to media to speak up about conditions at jails including London, Toronto and Penetanguishene.
At OCDC, more gangsters and prisoners with mental health issues are being housed in the facility, as overcrowding and assaults among inmates and against jail guards grow. Union officials want jail guards to have access to protective equipment, such as handcuffs, batons or pepper spray.
Rallies are being planned around the province to draw attention to the concerns.
Sidsworth said corrections workers still want the message to get out, despite warnings about using social media.
"The rules that govern us are very strict," Sidsworth said.
The ministry says staff is not allowed to release information or pictures on social media networks, or other media, that deal with the security of jails or related operations as a measure to protect inmates and staff from violence or security breaches, such as escapes.
When not at work, there are no restrictions on social media or media use if it is outside of those "restricted topics," according to ministry officials.
Sidsworth said the union's mandate is to make a safer workplace and it plans to continue to draw awareness to the issue.