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Prison guard union not endorsing Ontario PC chain-gang plan Add to ...

The union that represents guards at Ontario prisons says it was never consulted about Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s plan to put convicts to work in the community.

Mr. Hudak told reporters Wednesday that he believes correctional officers are in favour of the work program, which would require prisoners to perform manual labour for up to 40 hours a week in exchange for perks in prison. His opponents have derided the plan, calling it a “chain gang” initiative.

“Provincial guards like this idea,” Mr. Hudak said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We’re just asking the prisoners to do what every other hard-working Ontarian does – an honest day’s work instead of spending the day working out to become better criminals.”

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Dan Sidsworth, corrections chair at OPSEU, said he was never contacted about the Progressive Conservative plan.

“I don’t know who he’s been talking to, but he hasn’t talked to the elected members that represent the correctional officers,” Mr. Sidsworth said. “We’re not endorsing Mr. Hudak’s plan.”

Mr. Sidsworth said he is in favour of more programming to keep prisoners occupied and help them rehabilitate. But he suggested the community work program is not the best use of scarce correctional services funding.

OPSEU president Warren Thomas went further on Thursday, arguing that a work program under Mr. Hudak’s watch would be degrading and humiliating for prisoners.

“His approach is absolutely wrong,” Mr. Thomas said. “I’m not opposed to people working, but I am opposed to having people out on the side of the roads, you know, in shackles and chains with armed guards.”

Mr. Hudak has so far declined to say whether guards would be armed. He told reporters he would need to consult with correctional officers and supervisors to determine the best way to keep prisoners from escaping while at work.

His campaign team has said the program would be “revenue neutral,” but added they would set aside $20-million of the corrections budget in case it’s needed.

“Depending on what manual labour projects are undertaken this program could deliver cost savings to Ontario taxpayers,” Mr. Hudak’s campaign material states. “Work that is currently paid for with taxpayer dollars that others do not want to do (raking leaves, cutting grass, picking up trash, doing laundry), when done by inmates, would free up taxpayer dollars to be spent on priorities like front-line health care.”

With a report from Steve Ladurantaye

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