Harper government's tough-on-criminals agenda means province will have to build additional facilities to hold a wave of new inmates sentenced by the courts, BCGEU says.
Ottawa (24 Sept. 2010) - New tough-on-criminals legislation planned by the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa may require B.C. taxpayers to foot the bill for two new jails, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE).
The union, which represents provincial correctional officers, says its prediction is based on information received in a response to a BCGEU inquiry about the impact of federal legislation on provincial correctional facilities.
"The deputy solicitor general says the number of inmates could increase to approximately 271 because of Bill C-25," said Darryl Walker, BCGEU president. "To the best or our knowledge, this is the first time the provincial government has given an indication of how many new inmates there may be because of the federal legislation."
Walker says the number of inmates will rise because prisoners will spend more time in provincial remand facilities. "Bill C-25 eliminated the 'two-for-one' provision that allowed inmates to get the equivalent time off their record for time spent in remand," he notes.
Other federal legislation such as mandatory prison for drug-related crimes, changing conditional sentencing and ending automatic statutory release after two-thirds of a sentence will also put new pressures on provincial jails, BCGEU says.
"The number provided by the provincial government basically means building another prison in B.C.," notes Walker. "When you consider the other federal legislation under consideration this number may be quite low. We also have the ongoing problem with overcrowding."
The federal government is planning to build 2,700 new spots in federal jails to try and accommodate the inmates once they go through the courts.
"Overcrowding in our jails continues to be an ongoing problem," says Dean Purdy, chair of the BCGEU's correctional and sheriffs component.
"For example, the North Fraser Pretrial Centre was designed for 300 inmates but averages 650 and has held more than 700. The Kamloops jail was built to hold 168 inmates but averages in excess of 300 and has held as many as 389. Overcrowding leads to more staff assaults and problems for our staff and the system. Something is bound to give," he argues.
"Combined with overcrowding and federal legislation the provincial government is going to have to start planning for at least two more jails right now," says Purdy.
"The maximum security Wilkinson Road jail in Victoria is an example of a jail that was built for 206 prisoners and now holds 350 to 400 inmates. This is probably the size of each jail the province will have to build," he adds.
"We supported the government's decision to expand the Surrey facility but it won’t be built until 2013 and will only have 180 cells and hold 360 inmates with each cell double bunked."
Purdy is in Ottawa this week attending a meeting of correctional officers from across the country. He hopes to compare B.C.'s situation with that of the other provinces and to meet with federal MPs to discuss the impact of federal crime legislation on already-overcrowded B.C. jails.
The meeting is being hosted by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). BCGEU is a NUPGE Component representing approximately 1,500 correctional officers and 450 sheriffs in the province.
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
B.C. Deputy Solicitor General's letter - pdf