Address critical overcrowding situation in correctional facilities before someone is killed, BCGEU demands.
Vancouver (5 Jan. 2011) - The B.C. Government and General Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) is beginning the New Year looking for some real answers from the province to the growing dangers of working in B.C. correctional facilities.
Three correctional officers at the provincially run North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam were attacked by inmates in separate incidents over the Christmas period.
The attacks occurred just weeks after a correctional officer was badly beaten at the same facility.
Dean Purdy, chair of the BCGEU correctional and sheriff services section, says jails are dangerous at the best of times but are especially hazardous over the Christmas holidays.
Not only are many of the prisoners depressed about missing the holidays on the outside, many are also drinking alcohol brewed illegally within the facilities.
Overcrowding is also a critical problem. The Port Coquitlam jail was meant to house about 300 but now holds more than 650 inmates on any given day.
“This is another example of how the violence levels in our provincial jails continue to rise,” Purdy told the Vancouver Province. The result is a ratio of one guard to every 60 inmates which is clearly inadequate, he argues.
“With those conditions it is very difficult to maintain the safety and security levels that are needed,” Purdy says.
One of the three officers attacked will be off work several weeks with a concussion. He was knocked to the ground, striking his head on a brick wall. Another guard was sucker-punched and suffered facial injuries. The third man was elbowed and kicked in the head.
The first assault at the pretrial centre in November brought longstanding concerns about worker safety back to public attention once again.
“We are calling on the government to look at the staffing levels,” said Purdy. “One officer working alone with 60 inmates is unacceptable.... We don’t want to see a death before a change is made.”
The North Fraser Pretrial Centre is one of six maximum security jails around the province.
Purdy says one of the main sources of tension is the growing number of street gangsters being held in custody.
“The gang violence we see on the streets carries over to the jails,” he said. “The gang violence is becoming more and more of a concern to us.”
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