”It felt like I was fighting for my life.”
This is a quote from a Correctional Officer who was struggling to escape a 5 by 8 foot cell while he was being violently assaulted by a Federal Offender.
On January 16th, 2020 at approximately 1705 hours while conducting a Security Patrol in a Living Unit at Medium Security Warkworth Institution, a Correctional Officer encountered a cell where he could not ascertain the wellbeing of the Offender inside.
He opened the door where he observed an Offender he believed was destroying Contraband.
At this time he was forcefully “yanked” into the cell by his stab resistant vest.
In an instant he was fighting off a vicious attack for over two minutes while a response was being mobilized.
In what the Officer perceived as an eternity he was able to work his way towards escaping the cell only to be shoved back in the cell by another Inmate who was part of a large group congregating outside the cell chanting and encouraging the assault, “Get him. Get him.”
Exhausted at this time, the Correctional Officer continued to defend and protect himself from the continuous onslaught of aggression until responding Officers were able to remove him from the cell.
The Officer stated that, “I felt like I could not fight back with all my effort as subconsciously I perceived that I would face accusations of excessive force, so I was strictly being defensive.
“I should not feel this way when I am defending myself alone awaiting a response, but the level of scrutiny and accountability we face when we are involved in interventions that require force weighs heavy even in exceptional circumstances like these.”
“I felt like I was fighting for my life.”
As the alleged assailant was being removed from the Living Unit under escort by Officers he received cheers from fellow Offenders.
The Officer was taken to Outside Hospital for Emergency treatment for head trauma related to multiple blows with a closed fist to his face and back of the head, as well as received 11 stitches.
The alleged assailant and Offender who prevented the Officer from escaping were both transferred to Maximum Security.
Rob Essex, Local President for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers at Warkworth Institution and a Correctional Officer, states that “it is becoming a more challenging and dangerous work environment for Correctional Officers as there appears to be a correlation between an increase in perceived unrealistic Correctional Officer Accountability and Responsibility and a decrease in Offender Accountability and Responsibility.”
“We are literally putting our lives on the line everyday in roles of Peace Officer, Paramedic, Firefighter, Psychological Counsellor, Authoritarian, but we must also be Understanding and Positive in an Environment that is Negative by its very nature.”
“There is inherent risk in what we do, and we get that…but what is going on inside the fences of Warkworth Institution isn’t exactly considered normal or what we signed up for.”
“In this case, we have an experienced Officer who jeopardized his personal wellbeing for perceived fear of retaliation by his employer.”
“We should feel supported by the Correctional Service of Canada and not have to defend ourselves in constant investigations, our occupation is challenging enough.”
Officers who attended to isolate and contain the scene have commented, “It is extremely emotional when you are responding to a situation where there is blood everywhere and it’s your fellow Officer’s blood. You don’t realize the psychological impact this has until you experience it, and unfortunately this gives you perspective on how dangerous and unpredictable this job is.”
Many Officers still cannot simply move on from what they have seen as another Officer remarked, “what we see observe and experience at work cannot be simply unseen or ignored.”
“There is not a switch that can be turned off when we leave after a shift.”
“This bleeds in to every aspect of our lives. It affects our psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing, and how we interact with our partners, our children, our families, our friends and even strangers.”
“We need more support. We deserve Respect for the sacrifices we make.”
In 2018, there were 294 incidents that would be deemed acts of aggression at Warkworth Institution.
In 2019, that number more than doubled to 625.
From Rob Essex, “Many believe that what happens inside walls and fences do not have an affect on the average citizen.”
“This could not be more far from the truth. As we observe a rise in violence and incidents, and reduced Offender accountability, responsibility and respect…this impacts Public Safety and the Communities we live in.”
“This also includes the First Responders on the “outside” who must deal with a failed rehabilitation.”
Essex said, “as a father, husband and son I am concerned. ”
Brett MacDonald, a Union Executive, explains “accountability has gone out the window, leaving us as targets for rage, anger, frustrations even vengeance.”
Lastly, Mr. Essex notes “we also had a situation where an Officer received specific threats on her safety, but the Correctional Service of Canada wanted her to work else where in the Institution rather than move the Offender to a different Correctional Facility. How do you think that Officer feels? Do you believe she feels valued?”
Of note, it is believed that 1 in 3 Correctional Officers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, up to 70% will be diagnosed with Depression, and over 10% will seriously consider Suicide.
The above was prepared on behalf of the Local of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers at Warkworth Institution.
Northumberland OPP are continuing their investigation and there is no word on charges.