A public accounts hearing became an exercise in pointing fingers as justice and union officials traded blame for the woes plaguing Nova Scotia’s correctional system.
A panel of critics from all three political parties grilled Fred Honsberger, executive director of correctional services for the province, yesterday at the legislature’s public accounts hearing on correctional services.
Following the hearing, blame for recent mishaps within the system was cast in a multitude of directions.
New Democrat justice critic Bill Estabrooks said Honsberger should no longer be at the helm.
“It seems to me that Mr. Honsberger’s days should be numbered when it comes to continuing this kind of position,” he said.
Honsberger, however, said the justice minister’s external audit will take a closer look at why five inmates have escaped or been mistakenly released from custody over the past year. For the most part, the rash of incidents is coincidental, he said.
He responded to questions about a rumoured uprising at the Burnside jail as a result of overcrowding and understaffing, saying he’s not concerned.
In his opinion, guards spoke to media anonymously about a possible “blow up” because of rising tensions over union negotiations.
But the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union jumped in with her own two cents.
“Shame on you,” Joan Jessome interjected.
She later explained that guards’ concerns have nothing to do with the bargaining process.
“These issues are based on safety,” she said.
Jim Gosse, spokesman for Local 480 with the union, said it all boils down to staffing levels in the province’s jails which have remained “stagnant” for decades.
Increasing capacity and forcing inmates to double up in cells will just make matters worse, he said.
During the hearing, Honsberger said that just like college kids in dorms, if prisoners are “compatible” with one another, double bunking shouldn’t be an issue.
“The inmates will experience less living area, but it’s within acceptable standards,” he said.
Gosse told reporters if the Justice Department had done something about overcrowding and employee concerns when they began to surface a few years ago, this crisis would have been averted.
The justice department announced the terms of reference of the external audit later yesterday.