Yukon jailors harass female colleagues

Female employees at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are being harassed by both inmates and facility supervisors, according to a three-year-old…

Female employees at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre are being harassed by both inmates and facility supervisors, according to a three-year-old report recently leaked to the media.

And while such harassment has lessened, it continues to be a problem today, says the president of the Yukon Employees Union.

“We know there have been some issues up there in the realm of harassment because we did have some harassment complaints going in,” said Laurie Butterworth in an interview Thursday.

“Some of that is still occurring. But, from when I talk to people, it’s a better place to work now than it was two years ago.”

Female corrections officers are being verbally harassed by inmates, and pawed and sexually propositioned by their male coworkers, according to the 16-page government-sponsored report completed in August 2004.

Half of the supervisors who were in charge, not only knew about the harassment, they might have endorsed it, according to the document.

There was a signed agreement between the Yukon Employees Union and the Justice department to handle the problem co-operatively, but personnel changes at Justice led to the situation being handled by the government in-house, said Butterworth.

Southern experts were recruited to teach corrections officers how to be more respectful in the workplace, he said.

“We were sort of pushed back and they started doing things in-house,” said Butterworth. “Now, I haven’t heard lately, but I know there’s still some issues going on up there.”

Recent media reports about the document have prompted union-government discussions, said Butterworth.

The 2004 report, which cost $13,000, was authored by Dr. Patricia M. Fisher, who runs an international employee health and wellness firm.

Officials don’t want the details of the harassment being made public, said Butterworth.

“There’s a bit of angst I think at the government level, and at the department of Justice right now for that report getting out,” said Butterworth.

“I don’t know the reasons for the secrecy of the report because government does that all kinds of times.

“They’ll get out there and then they’ll never release the report.”

According to Fisher’s report, which was anonymously dropped off to at least two local media outlets, the information obtained through interviews with corrections centre staff in 2004 was only meant for the eyes of a select few.

“It is important to note that given the small number of individuals involved in this assessment report, and given their legitimate concerns regarding ongoing vulnerability to workplace harassment, it is critical that circulation of this report be restricted to key decision-making individuals within YTG and the department of Corrections.”

The report states the women working on two of four teams at the jail complained they had found themselves in an uncomfortable work environment.

“Exposure to ongoing sexual harassment, crude remarks and name-calling from male inmates was noted by almost three-quarters of the participants.

“A number of the women believe that they were being set up for this by coworkers and supervisors,” according to the report.

It also details complaints by female guards that while they were being harassed by inmates, their male coworkers would occasionally join in.

The report stated managers were not aware of specific conditions or problems within the jail.

“In terms of senior leadership, there seemed to be consensus that management is unaware of what is happening on the floor,” said Fisher’s report.

“Most participants attributed this to the fact that senior management receives their information from the supervisors — thus receiving an edited version of reality.”

Female guards were looking for greater opportunities in management, more women working at the jail and better programs for inmates, according to the report.

Employees also described the facility as a ‘sick building’ and said they felt a new centre should be built as soon as possible.

“The need for a new jail was prominent, and almost all participants were distressed by the current physical plant as an unhealthy environment with serious limitations and critical shortfalls [e.g. serious overcrowding, poor air quality, no facilities, a sick building environment],” the report states.