Burnside jail staff suspended over mistaken release of dangerous offender
CTV News has learned four staff members at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility have been suspended without pay after last month’s mistaken release of a dangerous offender.
The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents more than 400 correctional officers, says staff is now working with the membership on the recent suspensions.
“They take their job very seriously and work under very serious conditions,” says Joan Jessome. “It’s just a very unpredictable workplace and they do the best they can and sometimes things get missed.”
The suspensions range up to five days each and more than a dozen disciplinary letters have been placed on workers’ files.
Justice Minister Lena Diab isn’t commenting on the matter, but Jessome says all four workers are with the NSGEU and one was acting in a management position.
The suspensions come after 22-year-old inmate Eliahs Knudsen Kent was wrongfully released from the facility while being held on remand and awaiting trial.
Police were notified and a search was launched for Kent. They warned the public not to approach him, saying he was dangerous and had a history of violence.
Kent spent more than 24 hours on the lam and was arrested after a short pursuit in Spryfield the following afternoon.
Investigators determined another inmate who was due to be released from prison on Nov. 7 allowed Kent to pose as him, enabling Kent to leave the facility.
An internal investigation found that staff did not follow the policies and procedures in place. Justice officials said inmates are photographed and fitted with a bracelet that includes the photo and other identifying information when they are admitted to the facility.
The bracelets are to be worn at all times and, when an offender is discharged, they are to be identified by the bracelet and by a photo and signature on file.
However, the government said the requirement to wear ID wasn’t enforced and Kent’s bracelet, photo and signature weren’t verified when he was discharged.
Last week, an inmate serving an intermittent sentence was mistakenly released from the Burnside jail 12 hours early, at 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m.
Diab has said volume at the jail is part of the problem.
“In that particular day they had 66 releases. That’s a lot of offenders that all had to leave at the exact same time, on the exact same day,” said Diab last week.
A review of that release is still underway.
The Nova Scotia Justice Department is also looking at policies and procedures in other jurisdictions to see what is done in other provinces, and determine whether improvements can be made in Nova Scotia.
That report is expected sometime next year.
“Well, the government’s made a habit about doing reviews and studies, but the only way we’ll have faith in our system is if they’re up front with Nova Scotians about what is going wrong, and what they plan to do about it,” says Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.
Jessome says not just unionized staff, but also management, have to adhere to policies and procedures and, given what she knows about conditions at the jail, she’s surprised accidental releases don’t happen more often.
“It’s a jail that has been plagued with understaffing and double bunking and too many inmates and too many inmates in on the weekends, all kinds of things,” she says.
The union says all four suspensions will be grieved. No one has been disciplined for last week’s accidental release at this time.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster