Premier promises action on youth superjail

TheStar.com – News/Law Enforcement
Published On Wed Mar 31 2010.   Robert Benzie Queens’s Park Bureau chief, Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter

Premier Dalton McGuinty vowed action after a new report criticized his government’s slow response to problems in Ontario’s youth superjail.

At Queen’s Park, McGuinty said the child advocate’s findings on the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre are proof “that there are some real issues there.” He promised that Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten would address them.

“As somebody who used to practice criminal law and as somebody who has spent a lot of time with young offenders, I know you get just a few opportunities to turn young people around,” McGuinty said.  “We want to have the best kinds of programming in there so that it improves them as people,” he said. “And we’re not accomplishing that right now.”

On Wednesday, the Star published an exclusive report on the advocate’s findings.  The report highlights accounts from young detainees who described being locked in their rooms for days, punched and kicked by guards, and ignored by nurses at the 192-bed facility.  “It doesn’t feel safe and it isn’t safe,” Irwin Elman, Ontario’s child advocate, told the Star.

The Roy opened last July with the promise to provide programs that would help turn troubled youths into “future taxpayers.” The advocate’s office started fielding serious complaints about violence and the lack of programming a few weeks later.

The Star published its first expose on troubles at the jail in November. The advocate’s office intensified its investigation as more allegations surfaced. A particularly disturbing scenario described how staff ordered a body-cavity search for a missing DVD.  Jail workers have also expressed concerns.

It’s unsafe not just for detainees but frontline workers as well, said Bruce England, a youth services officer at the facility and president of OPSEU Local 290, which represents jail workers.  He said there isn’t enough staff to supervise the youths, let alone oversee programming at the 200,000-square-foot facility.  England told the Star about three stressed-out contract workers who quit in the middle of their shifts, saying, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Laurel Broten, whose ministry oversees the jail, said her office has spent the past few months drafting an action plan to address the problems.

The plan, released Wednesday, includes phasing in more staff training, anger-management programs for detainees and improving the assessment process that determines to what unit youths are directed on arrival.

In December, the Star reported that a teenage Crown witness was put in the same quarters as the group of young men he was to testify against.

After McGuinty’s comments at Queen’s Park Wednesday morning, the Star asked Broten what changes detainees and staff can expect to see at The Roy this week. Her office did not answer the question by the time this story went to press.

Elman said he’s “heartened by the premier’s response and his concern for the wellbeing not only of the centre but the youth and staff.”  In August, Elman’s office will begin a sweeping analysis of The Roy. At that time, the jail will have been operational for just over a year.  Elman said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Broten’s plan will fix the centre’s problems before his first formal review.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/lawenforcement/article/788162–premier-promises-action-on-youth-superjail >

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