Jailhouse attack prompts safety assessment: justice minister

A third party probe will be conducted this spring after an officer was brutally assaulted last May, says Caroline Wawzonek

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The North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) will soon undergo a third-party workplace safety assessment, the territory’s justice minister said Tuesday.

The review comes after a guard was brutally beaten by an inmate about a year ago.

Justice Minister Caroline Wawzonek, pressed to provide answers about the assault by Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green in the NWT Legislative Assembly, said the upcoming evaluation – set to be conducted by an external contractor outside of the Department of Justice – will take place this spring.

In May, a corrections officer was escorting an 18-year-old inmate back to cells when he was suddenly attacked. The inmate unleashed a flurry of punches, striking and then kicking the officer before eventually being pepper sprayed and restrained by NSCC guards.

Footage of the chaotic incident, captured by the jail’s surveillance system, was obtained by Yellowknifer late last year. The Department of Justice refused to say whether or not safety protocols had been reassessed or revamped following the assault.

“The video … raises a whole bunch of questions,” said Green, who grilled Wawzonek on what went wrong, and what’s been done since to prevent another attack from happening at the territory’s largest jail.

Green said she obtained a report on the incident, conducted internally by the Department of Justice, through an access to information request.

Green said she received a heavily redacted version of the report that left her with more questions than answers.

“There are a lot of loose ends in this report,” said Green. “It raises questions about how safe a place NSCC is to work.”

“Why didn’t Corrections (Service) have a third party investigation? Were serious incident protocols followed? None of these questions are answered in the blacked-out report,” she said.

Green said some details surrounding the incident, however, were revealed in the “spotty” report she accessed.

The MLA said she learned the corrections officer was “not following the proper protocol for escorting (the) inmate,” adding it’s unclear whether the officer knew he wasn’t following protocol.

Green said the report revealed there is no training at NSCC for new corrections officers relating specifically to escorting inmates in the facility, although staff are taught self-defence techniques.

Wawzonek said several steps have been taken to improve safety at the Yellowknife jail since the attack occurred.

NSCC employees underwent additional training in January, and an interdepartmental working group, formed between human resources and the Corrections Service, was recently established, said Wawzonek.

The minister said refresher training for jail staff happens regularly.

Asked by Green whether serious incident protocols were followed during the May assault, Wawzonek said there are “certain forms of escort within (NSCC) that required two guards to be conducting an escort.

“The staff are aware of that – that policy has been the subject of a review by the staff and by the supervisors at the facility,” said Wawzonek. “Any shortcomings in terms of following policy will not be repeated.”

Wawzonek addressed why the initial investigation was done in-house and not externally. She said an internal investigation was deemed appropriate, adding RCMP and the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) were involved in the initial investigation.

A 2015 review by Canada’s auditor general revealed glaring gaps in the territory’s correctional system. The report identified major deficiencies in “the staffing approach that affect the operations of each facility, including the security and safety of inmates and staff, and inmates’ access to services.”

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