The NWT’s justice minister set out improvements being made to the corrections service after a leaked report exposed troubling gaps at the territory’s jails.
In January, an internal workplace assessment revealed employees at NWT jails had complained of understaffing, inadequate training and policy enforcement, and a disconnect between senior management and staff.
In February, justice minister RJ Simpson declined to formally make the report public on the grounds of employee confidentiality. The minister did, however, commit to making changes in the corrections service.
According to the minister, staff and management began meeting in December 2020 to discuss issues raised in the report. A working group had been established that included members of the Union of Northern Workers.
On Tuesday, in a written response to questions from Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, Simpson provided more detail about changes being made.
The minister’s response stated a database has been created to help develop annual training plans and provide ongoing training recertification for staff.
Staff received trauma-informed care training in February and March 2021, the minister said. The leaked report included concern that inadequate training meant new employees were not prepared to work on the floor and that there was a lack of refresher training.
Specifically, corrections employees raised issues with the northern recruitment training program. Simpson said that program had been “revamped to reflect changes in legislation and current practices within corrections.” The territory aims to roll out the revamped program in the fall.
The workplace assessment found that staff felt “overwhelmed” and “bombarded” by frequent changes to policies without consultation. They complained of understaffing at facilities and high workloads for managers.
Simpson said policy committees are being established and operational changes at jails had been made with input from staff, including reviewing and revising operational schedules.
Finally, many corrections officers complained about not being given a complete uniform and having to buy their own personal protective equipment. Female corrections officers, in particular, were said to have been given male uniforms that did not fit.
Simpson’s letter to Cleveland suggests issues with uniforms are set to be corrected by the end of the first week in April.
The minister committed to providing a further update on changes to the corrections service before the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly, in May.