As London’s provincial jail wrestles with the fallout from a fire that sent an inmate and manager to hospital, a work refusal and a reported knife assault on an inmate, guards warn they still face another problem:

Where is the 25-cm shank used in the assault, and is there more metal from a broken light being formed into weapons?

“It’s mass confusion. It’s broken,” a veteran guard said Wednesday. He called for the province to launch an outside investigation of Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC), or create a public board to oversee the jail.

Managers are ignoring procedures to keep inmates and staff safe and the polarization between staff and managers has reached troubling levels, he charged. “It would be nice to have a fresh start,” he said.

At the least, other EMDC workers say, the province should fix the lights in the jail so inmates can’t so easily strip them and make the metal bands around the lights into weapons.

“It all comes down to cost,” another guard said.

After a winter of relative peace at EMDC, a series of small crises began brewing two weeks ago that resulted Wednesday in the fire.

The fire was on the second floor and was followed by the launch of an arson investigation by London police and the Ontario fire marshal’s office.

About two weeks ago, a 0.60-metre-long strip of steel framing and about another 0.30-metre-long piece of metal bracket, plus about 130 sq. cm. of Plexiglas went missing from a bathroom light, sources said.

After a lockdown that began March 27, a search found the missing light pieces, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said at the time.

But guards say some of the metal wasn’t found.

On Tuesday, according to sources, an inmate reported to guards that another inmate had held a 25-cm metal shank to his throat.

Another inmate reported that in the same unit inmates dragged him around “like a dog on a leash.”

Guards tried to get supervisors to take the inmate’s report about the knife, but it took hours because supervisors believe the inmate is not credible, sources said.

“This inmate is a member of the public,” one guard said. “At least have a talk with him.”

Once the inmate finally gave his report, guards were ordered to search the unit. The guards wanted the crisis squad — armed with batons, shields, helmets, pepper spray and vests — to search the entire jail.

Managers insisted regular guards go in, wearing their protective vests.

“Those little vests won’t stop a 10-inch (25-cm) metal shank,” one guard said.

By Wednesday the dispute over the search had boiled over into a work refusal by guards and a resulting lockdown.

Twice amid the chaos Tuesday night and again Wednesday morning, a frustrated inmate lit fires.

That inmate, and a manager who rushed in to stop the fire Wednesday morning, were taken to hospital, sources said.

The Wednesday morning fire also drew firefighters and police to the jail. Police confirmed Wednesday the fire is being investigated.

The Labour Ministry was called Wednesday and “has indicated the correctional officers have no grounds to refuse to work,” Corrections ministry spokesperson Brent Ross said.

Ross said he was unable to confirm other details of the day’s disturbances or provide answers to complaints about the lights.

randy.richmond@sunmedia.ca

via The London Free Press.