The union representing Ontario's correctional officers is urging them to press for criminal charges against inmates who commit even minor assaults on guards after an inmate allegedly punched a London officer in the face last week.
Monte Vieselmeyer of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said the number of assaults like the one reported at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre has been going up.
"Our staff aren't punching bags," he said. "You can't take out your aggressions or your issues on our staff."
Offenders who assault officers are normally put in segregation, but that's no longer feasible in the province's overcrowded prisons, he said.
"It's almost like a revolving door. They're going into a segregation unit and being put back," he said.
Vieselmeyer said reporting even minor incidents to police would simultaneously penalize offenders and raise awareness of institutional challenges such as overcrowding and understaffing.
"Most people don't know what happens behind the walls," he said.
"So how do we send a message, not only to the offender but to the government? Basically, we need to protect our staff."
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said that it does not consider any assault to be "minor."
"The Ministry takes the health and well-being of correctional officers, and all staff, very seriously," spokesperson Brent Ross said in an email.
"On a daily basis, correctional facilities across Ontario deal with and manage risks of inmate violence."
Ross said that, other than contacting police, the protocol after an assault is for employees to fill out a standard incident report and, in the case of injury, a workers' compensation claim.