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Paradise for Kids

March 8, 2010 permalink

Life inside the Brookside Youth Centre in Coburg Ontario is heaven for the kids. They watch TV, eat pizzas and McDonald's and attend school, one tutor for every six kids. They are served so much food at meals, most inmates don't finish their plates. The inmates are regularly given fast food, given portable AM/FM radio devices they are allowed to take home, allowed to watch movies, snack on pop and potato chips, surf the Internet, enjoy chocolate and fruit, play sports and more.

At least, that is their life if you believe the union representing the staff. For another view, refer to the purgatory at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton that led to complaints by Ontario's child advocate Irwin Elman.



Brookside inmates have 'free rein,' union charges


COBOURG -The president of the local union representing Brookside Youth Centre staff has harsh words for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services following an alleged assault last month on three workers.

"I truly believe a staff member will be killed, if not a youth, in the very near future in one of our five facilities," said Peter Harding, president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 337, who also sits on various provincial committees regarding youth justice.

As a result of provincial interpretation of youth laws, Harding said, the inmates at Brookside have "free rein."

Federal legislation regarding the Child and Family Services Act gives institutions the ability to use Secure Isolation, create special security programs, etc., for facilities such as Brookside Youth Centre.

"The ministry has the ability to create policy to keep staff and youth safe but prefers to take away any measure of control we once had," Harding said.

Now, instead of staff disciplining the youths for misbehaviour or assaults, the youths are kept in regular programs.

"Their general feeling is we give them a hug and everything is all better," Harding charged.

"The ministry also refuses to move adult-age youth to adult institutions even though legislation allows for this."

Harding said morale at the institution, which can house up to 87 youths, is at an all-time low.

"In my 22 years it has never been lower in our institution," he said.

"Morale was higher when we were on strike. It's terrifying what's going on.

"There is a big fence up, but anything within that fence is theirs."

The inmates at Brookside Youth Centre range in age from 14 to 18 years old at the time of the crime and are housed in the institution for anything an adult would get a minimum two-year sentence for, including gang violence, attempted murder, murder, rape and arson.

The ministry has directed all offenders who are minors at the time of the crime be housed together regardless of their age. This means offenders aged 14 are housed with 20-year-olds.

Currently 35% of the inmates at Brookside are 18 years old and older.

Harding said "discipline is likely," after three staff were allegedly assaulted Feb. 26 by a 19-year-old inmate in an unprovoked attack.

Since the alleged attack, Harding said, Brookside administration have been attempting to transfer the inmate to another facility, but other institutions are refusing.

The union had previously requested the inmate be transferred after a Brookside worker was assaulted, but the inmate remained in the general population at the facility.

"He has done the runaround of the province and has assaulted staff everywhere he's been," Harding claimed.

The ministry is refusing to send the inmate to a mental facility because he is too violent, even though he meets the criteria, Harding said.

The three staff members were treated and released from hospital and the youth is facing adult criminal charges because of his age.

But because of a previous incident in June 2009 in which two Brookside staff members restrained an inmate for disruptive behaviour, and were subsequently fired in January 2010, Harding fears the ministry will try the same tactic for the three injured staff.

"We have a concern that staff that were hospitalized... their jobs are now in jeopardy," Harding said.

"Apparently there is an internal investigation to find wrongdoing by staff."

The union is in the legal process of having the two men fired in January reinstated.

"I am confident they will be exonerated of all charges," Harding said.

"It was, in my mind, a completely fabricated ministry official direction going out to send a message to staff that, although we're supposed to break up fights, we're supposed to keep being safe, we can't go near the youths and if the youth does anything, the youth is correct."

Inside Brookside, Harding said, gangs are the biggest problem and "assaults are up dramatically."

"We can't take away even the small things like extra programming that they get," he said. "We have to allow them to watch TV, we have to allow them to have their pizzas and their McDonald's and attend school.

"There are no losses for people that don't follow the program."

And the dangerous part, he said, is that the inmates know that.

Harding said staff at youth institutions across the province are "terrified to be able to do their job."

OPSEU is hoping the ministry will review the interpretation of the current legislation and follow other provinces that are using secure isolation for discipline.

"Our province is interpreting federal legislation differently than any of the other provinces," Harding said.

As a result, he said, "there is no discipline existing within our facilities."

Harding stated the public would be "shocked" if they knew what murderers and rapists receive while in the youth facilities.

They are served so much food at meals, most inmates don't finish their plates.

The inmates are regularly given fast food, given portable AM/FM radio devices they are allowed to take home, allowed to watch movies, snack on pop and potato chips, surf the Internet, enjoy chocolate and fruit, play sports and more.

Along with short sentences for their crimes, inmates receive one teacher to six youths for school.

"Most things are now considered to be rights, not privileges, by ministry officials," Harding said.


Source: Northumberland Today