B.C. jails are badly overcrowded, minister admits | National Union of Public and General Employees

B.C. jails are badly overcrowded, minister admits

Routinely operating at 180% to 200% over capacity, Kash Heed tells BCGEU.

Vancouver (20 Nov. 2009) - Overcrowding in B.C.'s jails was the key issue discussed at a meeting this week between the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) and Kash Heed, minister of public safety and solicitor general.

BCGEU was represented at the meeting by union president Darryl Walker, Component 1 chair Dean Purdy and staff representative Mike Eso.

"There was a clear recognition by the minister there is overcrowding in provincial jails," says Walker.

"The minister said they were monitoring the situation on a daily basis and acknowledged they are running between 180 and 200% over capacity," he reports.

"Heed said that while they have limited options in the short term, he was interested in engaging the BCGEU on any future options. Heed also acknowledged he was looking to the federal government to find ways to solve this problem."

Purdy expressed concern over gang violence in the jails.

"Gang violence is on the rise in the community and is spilling over to our correctional centres making it more difficult for our officers to do their jobs. There have been 58 staff assaults since 2002 at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre and this could increase," Purdy notes.

"If federal legislation on drugs passes, this will also increase the prison population."

Purdy said the need for a new jail, particularly in the Okanagan, was also discussed.

"We will look for opportunities to advance that idea. We supported the new facility in Surrey and hope the minister will be able to proceed with plans for the jail in the Okanagan. The minister informed us the new jails would be built with consultation with staff over safety issues."

Purdy says he also expressed concerns to the minister about how living unit officers should have been given the opportunity to receive the H1N1 vaccination at an earlier date. The minister shares these concerns, he adds.

Also discussed was the large number of inmates that individual guards are required to supervise. At the North Fraser PreTrial Centre, for example, staff currently work alone with up to 60 inmates.

Overall, Walker said he was pleased with the meeting. "The minister commented on the professionalism of our members and we appreciate that support."

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