February 4, 2016 1:29 pm
Updated: February 4, 2016 5:18 pm

Federal prison workers brought kids to work, endangering their safety: watchdog

Public sector integrity commissioner Joe Friday says about one-third of those who worked at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge brought children to the penal institution at least 73 times since 2011.

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OTTAWA – Many employees of a federal prison in Saskatchewan frequently brought their children to work, even though the institution housed child-sex offenders.

An investigation by public sector integrity commissioner Joe Friday found 21 people who worked at the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge – a Correctional Service of Canada facility – brought children to the penal institution at least 73 times since 2011.

The commissioner’s report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, concluded the practice put the children in jeopardy.

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He recommended the prison service ensure it is “aware of and actively monitoring” local practices in its institutions to ensure
safety and consistency with policies.

The service’s regional and national headquarters were unaware of the practice, correctional commissioner Don Head said in a statement. The service takes the findings “extremely seriously” and has already moved to address the issues, he added.

Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge is a multi-level security institution in Maple Creek, Sask., housing women taken from the general inmate population and provides an open, residential-style environment.

It offers services and programs that reflect aboriginal culture and embrace teaching and ceremonies to meet the needs of indigenous
offenders.

Of the 39 inmates at the lodge, 11 were sentenced or had been previously sentenced for crimes involving children, ranging from sexual abuse to violence and neglect causing harm or death. Some inmates had specific conditions imposed on them to not be near children.

Moreover, intelligence reports reviewed during the investigation documented violent incidents – including sexual assault – between gang members, makeshift weapons in an open area and the presence of drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth.

The lodge’s informal environment, coupled with the sort of dangers commonly found in most prisons, “drastically increases the risk of an incident involving children,” the commissioner found.

In the 73 documented cases, employees used a “child safety waiver” form to bring their children to work. However, this form is
intended solely for family members visiting inmates.

Employees in positions of authority at the institution not only endorsed the practice but also took part, the commissioner’s report
says.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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