"A dysfunctional, over-crowded, under-funded prison system puts everyone at risk-our members, the inmates they work with, and the communities that those inmates get released into." — Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President
Vancouver (04 March 2019)—The BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) is asking the BC government to step in and take action to improve conditions in BC's adult correctional facilities. A report released this week by the Office of the Auditor General found that the Adult Custody Division of BC Corrections has failed to implement 5 of 8 recommendations intended to improve the safety and effectiveness of BC's prisons.
"BC Corrections has had 4 years to make progress on these recommendations and they've failed," said Stephanie Smith, President of the BCGEU, the union that represents corrections officers in adult custody facilities. "The findings of this report are embarrassing for Corrections Branch but they're potentially deadly for our corrections officers and we're calling on the government to step in."
Led to launch of Prison Safety Now campaign
The report released this week was a follow-up to an audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor General in 2015. The 2015 audit found that Adult Custody Division wasn't planning for or providing the facilities and programs needed to deliver safe, secure custody or to help inmates reduce their criminal behaviour after release. That report made eight recommendations to improve staff safety and inmate outcomes in BC's prisons.
The results of the 2015 audit prompted the BCGEU to launch the "Prison Safety Now" campaign in 2016 to raise public awareness and push BC Corrections to take action. The union's campaign highlighted risks faced by corrections officers due to overcrowding, double-bunking, gang violence, and inmates living with addiction and mental health issues. The campaign also emphasized the risks to public safety of a dysfunctional prison system. The union has called on the provincial government to address these issues by increasing resources for adult corrections to address officer-to-inmate ratios, reduce double-bunking, and increase access to services for inmates.
Putting officers, inmates and the public at risk
"A dysfunctional, over-crowded, underfunded prison system puts everyone at risk—our members, the inmates they work with, and the communities that those inmates get released into," said Smith. "Our members and all British Columbians deserve better. BC Corrections' failures are putting our province at risk and that has to change."
Prior to 2002, an officer-to-inmate ratio higher than 1 to 20 resulted in a second officer being added to the living unit. Currently, Surrey Pre-trial Services Centre and Okanagan Correctional Centre have a ratio of 1 to 72, while the ratio at North Fraser Pre-trial Centre is at 1 to 60.
Adult Custody Division has a 32 per cent double-bunking policy.
The audit report notes that unit closures have increased double-bunking and that 6 of 10 correctional centres are operating above the 32 percent benchmark.
Double-bunking benchmarks are highest at Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (66 percent), Fraser Regional Correctional Centre (56 percent), and Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre (52 per cent)
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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