'It's urgent. We need the government to stop stalling and build new facilities because our existing provincial jails are operating at close to 200 per cent over capacity.' - Dean Purdy.
Vancouver (14 Aug. 2009) - Faced with chronic overcrowding, increased gang activity and mounting health and safety concerns, British Columbia's front-line corrections staff are urging the provincial government to build at least two new jail facilities.
"It's urgent. We need the government to stop stalling and build new facilities because our existing provincial jails are operating at close to 200 per cent over capacity," says Dean Purdy, chairperson of the corrections and sheriffs services component of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE).
"Solicitor General Kash Heed needs to understand that chronic overcrowding is impacting our members' ability to properly monitor inmates," says Purdy, who works as a correctional supervisor at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre in Victoria.
"It's significantly heightened tensions and created a pressure cooker atmosphere at all our nine provincial jail facilities."
60-1 ratio intolerable
Purdy is hopeful there will soon be progress on building one of those two much needed facilities in the Lower Mainland.
"Now that there is a more appropriate consultation process in place with metro mayors, there's no reason why a formal announcement on a new Vancouver-area remand centre can't be made in the very near future. But the bigger challenge is to build a new facility in the interior," he argues.
Purdy says the root cause of the overcrowding crisis rests with decisions made by the Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell government in 2002 and 2003, when a number of jail facilities were closed and 550 corrections officers were laid off. Inmate to staff ratios are now as high as 60 to one.
Purdy says health and safety concerns were highlighted in a recent survey of front-line staff by Simon Fraser University (SFU) professor Neil Boyd. Seven out of 10 corrections officers acknowledged in the survey that they don't feel safe performing their duties.
50% more WCB claims
Purdy says corrections staff file 50% more WCB claims for on-the-job injuries caused by acts of force or violence than police officers.
"With prisoners incarcerated under deteriorating conditions, it stands to reason that stress and agitation levels are going to be very high," he says. "That can only lead to an increased risk of violent behaviour and deteriorating working conditions for corrections officers."
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