THUNDER BAY -- Working inside Ontario’s jails and prisons is a challenge.
Michael Parks knows it all too well, as a former staffer at a youth correctional facility. The Fort Frances native will put that training to the test in his new career, one of 20 Northern Ontario graduating corrections officers hired by the province to fill gaps left by a four-year hiring freeze.
Parks, who will work at the Fort Frances Jail, on Friday said he sees a career in corrections as a chance to help people turn their lives around.
But he’s realistic enough to understand not everyone will want his help.
“It will be a little more challenging working with adults now,” said Parks, recognized with the graduate’s peer award, voted on by his classmates after their eight-week training course.
“You need a little bit of leadership skills to help people, to help steer them in the right direction. Everybody needs a second chance. If I can help some of the people – maybe not all – well, I’m going to try to help as many as I can.”
Naomi Barclay was one of four women graduating from the class. The mother of a young daughter, Barclay said she sees a career in corrections as a way to help protect communities and the people who live there.
After weeks of training, scouring through a 12-pound manual and plenty of testing, she thinks she’s ready for the task at hand, guarding prisoners at the Thunder Bay Jail.
While TV shows like National Geographic Channel’s Lockdown have shown the grittier, dangerous side of life inside prison, Barclay said she’s approaching her new career with no fear, despite the potential danger that exists each and every day.
“There are a lot of questions and hopefully they’ll be answered within the first weeks or month or so. I hear the mentorship program is excellent and I’m looking forward to working at it.”
The new hires were a long time coming.
With a hiring freeze in place, gaps have opened up in correctional facilities across Northern Ontario. While it wasn’t ideal, the 20 new corrections officers should start to address a problem that arose with an overhaul in the recruitment process, that led to the hiring freeze.
Kevin Junor, the manager of institutional services and emergency response training for the Ontario Correctional Services College, said the recruitment process has undergone a number of changes since those hires.
It’s just now that they’re ready to start filling the gaps that opened up in the ensuing years. It was time, he said.
“Having an effective team is really important. Having any sort of vacancies, it’s not good for anyone,” Junor said.
“For us to provide effective inmate supervision, we need to have the staff. The new officers that have just graduated from this program will fill those gaps that we have to provide the supervision that’s required.”
Junor added the wait for the next graduating class won’t be nearly as long, noting he plans to train a new Northern Ontario class in the fall.