Employees of the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville, N.S. are concerned for their safety following the transfer of a 19-year-old murderer from an adult correctional institution, according to the provincial union representing them.
The provincial Department of Justice transferred the young man, who is serving time for stabbing and killing Daniel Pellerin in 2014, from the Waterville facility to the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou County last year, after he participated in a riot that seriously injured four youth workers.
But Justice Anne Derrick recently ruled that the offender should not be housed in an adult facility, according to Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union.
“This young person attacked our members,” said MacLean, noting that the offender “is not a small person and has vowed to do it again.”
The offender, who cannot be named publicly under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has been back at Waterville since Sept. 28. The facility has been keeping him segregated in a cottage on the prison grounds, MacLean explained.
The union’s concern is that the Waterville staff are not properly equipped to handle the risk that this offender poses. The Department of Labour ordered a risk assessment regarding the young man, but “there’s a plethora of things that haven’t been implemented yet,” said MacLean.
For example, the staff were supposed to receive training on the use of pepper spray, but this is yet to happen. In addition, when staff members escort residents outside the facility on temporary leaves, there should be other workers available to take over for them. The assessment also recommended replacing the facility’s large wooden doors with something stronger.
In an e-mailed response to COHSN, the Department of Justice stated that it had a plan in place to maintain everyone’s safety at Waterville, as guided by the courts.
“Every decision the Department makes is based on keeping offenders and staff safe,” the Department wrote. “Staff have up-to-date intervention strategies, including use-of-force training, and we have adopted a new staffing model to ensure the safety and security of staff and young people at all times.”
But MacLean said he believed that the Department did not want to spend the money to protect staff sufficiently. “The cost of things trumps safety and justice in Nova Scotia,” he said.
“You want offender safety, staff safety, and still be able to give offender programming and provide everything that a person would need to be treated humanely, and that costs a fair amount of money, and it doesn’t seem like the Department’s willing to do that. They skimp on staff, and they skimp on the training.”
The Department also tends to take a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to safety issues, MacLean added. “They deal with the situations as they come up,” he said. “And in this case, they’re not even dealing with it as it comes up. They’re making recommendations and are not even fulfilling them.
“It’s just indicative of the McNeil government on how they’ve been operating the whole last four years.”
MacLean wrote a letter to Justice Minister Mark Furey on Sept. 25, urging the Department to remedy all health and safety issues before the offender’s arrival at Waterville. But MacLean had received no response from Furey as of Oct. 2.
“He is somebody that shouldn’t be in a youth facility,” said MacLean about the offender. “My members are telling me that they’re not equipped to deal with him.”
“We recognize the excellent work our youth workers do in Waterville,” the Department wrote in its response. “Correctional Services will continue to ensure supports are in place for our staff to perform to the best of their ability.”