Disappointing B.C. report fails to address violence in prisons, safety concerns in community corrections

Report from B.C. government intended to look at escalating violence in province's prisons and community corrections falls short of goals.

Vancouver (22 Dec. 2014) — The British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) says that a report from the provincial government contains some positive recommendations to improve safety in provincial prisons but fails to address unsafe officer-to-inmate ratios. The report was produced by MLA Laurie Throness, the Parliamentary Secretary for Corrections.

Report fails to address inadequate staffing levels

“We are encouraged by recommendations that address the very serious mental health issues and addictions among inmates,” says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. “While Throness acknowledges a serious safety incident could occur soon, his recommendations to address increasing reliance on double-bunking and overcrowding in our prisons ignore the fact that we have too few correctional officers responsible for too many inmates.”

A decade ago staffing levels had one correctional officer for every 20 inmates. The government policy currently has one correctional officer working alone in a living unit with as many as 60 inmates.

Dramatic increase in violence

“Our records indicate there have been many more violent assaults on correctional officers over the last five years than are detailed in the Throness report,” says Dean Purdy, BCGEU vice-president for Corrections and Sheriff Services. “Frontline officers also tell us they are increasingly worried about their safety. The Parliamentary Secretary says he spoke with “at least one” front-line staff member at each prison. He should have spoken to more of our members. He would have heard a far more accurate description of working conditions inside our prisons.”

The Throness report follows comprehensive inspections of provincial prisons carried out by the WCB in 2012 and 2013. The inspections of the 9 prisons led to 58 orders being issued for serious health and safety violations.

Questions about how report had been "adjusted"

“We are disappointed with the findings of this report, which was mandated to eliminate violence and the threat of violence in our prisons,” says Purdy. “Throness also informed us in a letter written in November that his original recommendations were “adjusted” in the final report. The BCGEU will be filing a Freedom of Information request to uncover his original recommendations to make our prisons safer for inmates and correctional officers.”

Throness also reviewed safety issues in community corrections offices and recommended only “minor improvements” to security. “The WCB has written orders concerning serious health and safety issues that affect our probation officers,” says Doug Kinna, BCGEU vice-president of Social, Information and Health Services. “Members tell us of alarm systems that do not work, violent incidents that go unreported, and ineffective communications equipment that should protect them when they travel to remote communities. The recommendations made in the Throness report will do little to address these problems.”  

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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