Watch the video above: Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union prison concerns
REGINA – Management at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre is coming under fire from a workers’ union after employees found a microphone hidden in a device designed to look like a smoke detector in a staff room.
“The reaction of the employees was somewhat shock and disbelief,” said Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU).
According provincial ministry of justice, the microphone was part of a prototype intercom system installed in response to investigations of a 2012 death, and a suicide at a Prince Albert correctional centre last year.
The ministry said the device was briefly turned on to test it out – but that’s about it.
“That device had no ability to listen in on, as the news release indicated, or record voices that are coming out of that room,” said Drew Willby, the ministry’s executive director of corporate affairs.
“Does that sound plausible to you,” said Bymoen.
The union suspects the device was to be used for disciplining employees; one of a number of concerns it said is leading to a crisis.
Bymoen, who estimated that 300 people work at the centre, said that there are understaffing problems, and escalating gang-driven violence. The latter is being partially attributed to ‘gang-sprinkling,’ which puts members from rival gangs in the same facility.
The last fight between two gangs at the centre, in June, left two inmates in hospital with stab wounds, according to the union.
The ministry said it takes the union’s concerns seriously, and is working with the union to resolve them – including the overcrowding problems.
“It’s definitely for us, obviously, I mean it’s one of the factors that we look at as we deal with our facilities, but it’s not something that’s unmanageable,” said Wilby.
The microphone was installed sometime on or around April 1. While some did see it being installed, all staff members were first made aware of it, formally, over a month later on June 23.
Both the ministry and union are finding unity on at least one aspect of the issue.
“Obviously, a majority of staff didn’t know. Looking back on it, you know, I mean, we can look at this as a communication issue that we should have communicated better to staff. And in the future, we will,” said Wilby.
Currently, there are no plans to the intercom device back.