Prison kitchen staff justified in refusing to work after vicious attack, investigator finds
Internal Correctional Service of Canada documents reveal outside employees forced to work with inmates are inadequately trained, protected
By: Ryan Thorpe, Winnipeg Free Press | Posted: 7:00 PM CST Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021
A civilian food services employee at Stony Mountain Institution was brutally assaulted by an inmate in August ― sparking a work refusal from the prison kitchen staff that led to an occupational health and safety investigation.
The kitchen at Manitoba’s only federal prison has been the site of numerous violent incidents involving inmates and staff since Stony Mountain stopped posting a correctional officer in the food services department more than a decade ago.
The latest assault came to light after the Free Press obtained a series of internal Correctional Service of Canada documents and correspondence. CSC did not issue a press release on the attack.
A month after the assault, independent investigator Kim MacDonald ruled in favour of the kitchen employees refusing work, writing that CSC had "not properly identified, assessed and protected against all the hazards in the workplace."
CSC declined comment, beyond confirming the assault occurred. None of the written questions submitted by the Free Press were directly answered by the federal prison agency, which instead responded with several written paragraphs detailing safety protocols.
This is the latest in a string of episodes demonstrating the lack of transparency that has plagued CSC in general, and Stony Mountain in particular, for years ― as detailed in numerous reports from the federal prison ombudsman.
The assault occurred Aug. 21 when an inmate beat an employee with a metal broom handle, then punched and kicked him in the head as he lay on the floor.
The inmate was assigned to the kitchen work program at the time of the assault. He has since been transferred to a prison out of province.
“We feel it is unsafe to keep working with offenders without proper training. Training would put us in a better position to be able to respond to deal with incidents such as what happened August 21.”
— Employee representative in a written statement to prison administration
As there are no correctional officers stationed in the kitchen, it took prison guards more than a minute to respond to the assault, which ended when the inmate walked away.
The employee was taken to hospital and treated. He has not returned to work.
The following day, 22 food services employees refused to continue working with offenders until safety concerns were addressed. The employees requested improved staffing levels, a correctional officer stationed in the kitchen and training in non-violent crisis intervention and critical violent-incident response.
"We feel it is unsafe to keep working with offenders without proper training. Training would put us in a better position to be able to respond to deal with incidents such as what happened August 21," an employee representative wrote to prison administration.
The occupational health and safety review was launched Aug. 27.
While the investigation was underway, the inmate kitchen work program was suspended. CSC told the independent investigator it was concerned the suspension of the program would "impede progress to rehabilitation."
In a written statement to the Free Press, CSC noted food-services employees have access to "dynamic security training and practices," but provided no information on what such training entails.
The federal department also has "national training standards that provide safety training for all staff, including staff working in food services areas," a spokesman wrote.
But MacDonald’s investigation found training deficiencies among kitchen staff.
"Training records confirm that one refusing employee has completed all required training, but one of the courses is expired and renewal training has not been completed. Six of the refusing employees have been partially trained. Fifteen of the refusing employees have received no training at all," MacDonald wrote.
“The activity of working with offenders exposes (food-services department) employees to threat of harm including serious threat to the life or health of employees because refusing FSD employees have not been trained on how to interact calmly, how to defuse a crisis or how to intervene in a difficult situation."
— Independent investigator Kim MacDonald
In response to this finding, CSC claimed it is not required to provide the same training to employees who work on a casual or contract basis. The investigator found one employee who was a "casual" staff member for 12 years.
CSC also noted that "informal training" is given to casual and contract staff, but said no records are kept. MacDonald delivered her ruling in the case Sept. 24.
"The activity of working with offenders exposes (food-services department) employees to threat of harm including serious threat to the life or health of employees because refusing FSD employees have not been trained on how to interact calmly, how to defuse a crisis or how to intervene in a difficult situation," MacDonald wrote.
After offering online training to food services staff, the inmate kitchen work program was reinstated. An appeal was filed by the food services staff Oct. 22, in which they said they welcomed the extra training, but the vast majority of their requests for safety improvements had been ignored.
"We need more security. How many more people have to be killed or seriously injured?... We need to lessen the severity of incidents by posting a correctional officer in food services and providing more staffing in our department," an employee representative wrote.
"The food services department has greatly suffered due to the gross negligence stemming from a lack of training and security provided by CSC."
Since 2007, when Stony Mountain stopped posting correctional officers in the kitchen, there have been numerous violent incidents in the food services department ― the most notable being the slaying of Cosmo Valente, a 69-year-old inmate with early signs of dementia.
Valente was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate ― an incident which, according to MacDonald, "continues to have a psychological impact on FSD employees."
Byron Alden Jacob, 27, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the June 2012 attack.
In the 2017 inquest into Valente’s death, Judge Mary Kate Harvie recommended that Stony Mountain develop "a written policy… (on) the minimum number of stewards present in the kitchen area at one time… (and) a policy which identifies the appropriate ratio of stewards to inmates in the kitchen area."
The food services workers claim Stony Mountain administration did not implement Harvie's recommendation.
The Aug. 21 assault took place on the weekend when staffing levels in the kitchen are at their lowest, with civilian employees outnumbered by inmates three-to-one.
In a written statement to the Free Press, CSC said managers at Stony Mountain are "working with food service staff to improve processes and address any areas of concern to mitigate any further risk to staff safety."
But the leaked documents paint a different picture.
In their appeal of the decision to reinstate the inmate kitchen work program, an employee representative wrote that CSC and Stony Mountain administration have "failed to meaningfully engage" with staff to resolve safety concerns and are not being "transparent or forthcoming."