Findings from a workplace assessment report on North Slave Correctional Complex staff are consistent with allegations made by corrections officer Lisa Hann this week.
NNSL Media obtained a copy of the Nov. 27, 2020 GNWT Department of Justice, Corrections Service Workplace Assessment Staff Summary Report which involved a survey and one-one-one interviews. The survey got a 52 percent response rate with 162 staff participating. Ninety-eight employees participated in interviews, 24 declined an interview and 16 didn’t show up for a confirmed interview and didn’t reschedule.
Among the findings in the document are concerns about workplace safety and mistreatment of female officers, as well as issues around staffing, increasing work demand, recruitment efforts, training methods and a lack of support from fellow employees, including management.
The report states: “From the frontline’s perspective, the impact of staff at the minimum level was that ‘if something happened, there is no one to have my back.’ Personal safety on the job was a compelling and very real concern to most corrections officers interviewed. Corrections officers felt that management didn’t share their concern for the potential risks of their job and staffing at the minimum levels was a demonstration of that.”
Issues also involved perceived poor treatment of female officers – from their safety to being denied promotional opportunities to being “issued male shirts and pants that clearly do not fit and are told to make it work.”
“A number of female corrections officers and several male corrections officers were more at risk due to a differential treatment in terms of emergency support,” states the report.
There is also reference in the report that characterizes senior management at corrections headquarters as “an old boys club. The group was seen as protecting one another and actively promoting their own into management and senior management positions without fair and open competitions,” states the report. “The old boys club was also reported to exist at the facility level. Those considered to be in this club again occupied the management positions, had the ear of those in authority, shared information exclusively among themselves and excluded women.”
The report reflects criticisms from Hann, a former senior officer at the North Slave Correctional Complex, who spoke with NNSL Media this week. She complained about poor treatment as a female peace officer to the extent that her personal workplace safety was put at risk during a high profile inmate-on-corrections officer attack in May 2019 by Jordan Charlie.
Targeted as a woman
Hann sought this week to defend herself from being targeted by management as a woman, but also to fight back against the toxic culture experienced by other female officers.
She says women have been treated poorly by the Department of Justice NSCC management but also by the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), who she says did not adequately address her situation until a grievance was filed 18 months after the Charlie incident.
The UNW alleges that the employer “failed to provide Ms. Hann with a work environment free from harassment, discrimination, and abuse of authority” and that it was due to “a toxic work environment caused by, but not limited to, the actions of the management of the North Slave Correctional Complex.”
NNSL Media sent questions to the UNW president about the assessment and the grievance file. President Todd Parsons provided a statement:
“The UNW’s goal is always to achieve the best outcome for members experiencing workplace issues,” he stated. “There are processes that we must follow in order to properly address such issues, and commenting on this grievance would do nothing to improve the likelihood of a positive outcome.”
As an officer of eight years at NSCC, Hann alleges that her experience in the violent take down of a dangerous inmate described in her story is only part of systematic discrimination and harassment she witnessed during her work tenure.
“Immediately upon starting work there, I noticed there was a difference in treatment between male and female employees,” she said in a statement to NNSL Media. “I felt targeted as a woman as soon as I started and the harassment continued during the length of my employment with the GNWT.”
Her lengthy statement details that upon being hired as the only female in her class, she was not assigned a consistent mentor to develop new skills as had male participants in her class. Known as the ‘onboarding period,’ Hann alleges that she was forced to identify a senior officer to work with her and evaluate her performance.
“No one has ever had to pick their mentor except me,” she stated. “I felt this was an overt barrier which I had to navigate and seek out support of my own volition, where my fellow new hires that were all male did not have to seek out their own mentorship.”
Denied promotional opportunities
In subsequent years, Hann said senior male staff stopped her from working in the high-security area of the jail because they “didn’t like strong minded women” and she “was denied opportunities to progress and develop her professional skills by working in the high-security area.”
Multiple training opportunities over the years were also denied her, such as for negotiator training and intake officer training, she said.
“I applied for numerous training opportunities over the years of being at NSCC and was constantly denied for not having enough experience, while I would see male officers with less experience having access to training,” she said. “”Everything that I needed to advance professionally was blocked from me. I was denied intake training because I was told that it is a male-only position because most intakes of inmates are males and a woman can’t strip search them.”
She pointed out that standing order protocol at the jail states that strip searches require two officers and a female can be one of those people.
Deputy warden of operations
Her biggest goal during her years of work was to become a deputy warden of operations (DWO), a position of leadership, but she says this was denied her.
“I was told regularly by officers that the DWO positions were not for women. Women looking to move upwards were encouraged to go to case management positions rather than DWO – most women left to other positions.”
She alleges that she experienced a common pattern among female officers from the warden, which was to encourage female officers toward working to become a case manager or to work in the youth facility of the complex, she said.
Justice Minister R.J. Simpson was asked about the document this week, specifically related to the Charlie incident and in relation to the treatment of female officers and workplace safety.
He issued a statement to NNSL Media on Jan. 7 about the workplace assessment, but he did not address those items specifically. He stated that the workplace assessment was initiated by the deputy minister of the department “as a result of various concerns raised by staff and other individuals regarding the Corrections Services’ workplaces.
“The work was done by an independent contractor to encourage objective discussions with staff and hear as many of their voices as possible. The purpose of this workplace assessment was to hear the issues and concerns across various levels and locations from the staffs’ perspective,” Simpson stated. “Management has started the process of reviewing the information in the report to fully understand the staff viewpoint and consider the issues they raised. This review has been started, and the report has been shared with our staff to allow them time to consider solutions for moving forward.”
Simpson acknowledged that there are improvements to be made and that it “is not going to be a quick process. Unfortunately, due to legal processes underway, we cannot make further comment.”