'We support the move by the government to consult.... No one, including ourselves, wants a jail forced on a community.' - Darryl Walker.
Vancouver (9 Dec. 2010) - The B.C. government has announced that consultations will start with local governments, First Nations and other organizations on the building of a new jail in the Okanagan.
The news was confirmed by Solicitor General Rich Coleman at a meeting with representatives from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE).
"The announcement of a round of consultations is a step in the right direction," says Darryl Walker, BCGEU president. "Our union has made it clear to the government that the serious overcrowding issues in existing facilities has led to increased tension and violence against correctional officers.
"We support the move by the government to consult on the building of a new jail, but want to underline the need for consultation with community groups. No one, including ourselves, wants a jail forced on a community."
The BCGEU has been raising concerns about overcrowded jails for months and has pointed to other problems in the correctional system.
"While we look forward to the consultations, there are other issues the minister must address," adds Dean Purdy, chair of the union's correctional and sheriff services component.
"The government policy of having one correctional officer working alone in a living unit with 60 inmates is far too dangerous and has to change," Purdy argues.
"In our meeting with the minister, he agreed to review the policy on staff-to-inmate ratios. The overcrowding and violence in our jails has led to a situation where a correctional officer may be killed, and that cannot happen."
The overcrowding issue was highlighted on Nov. 10 when an inmate attacked an officer at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre. The officer is still recovering. It was the 30th assault on staff at that jail in the past two years.
"We made it clear to the minister that the violence has to end. I'm pleased that he has agreed to visit the North Fraser Pretrial Centre and meet with our members to get first hand an account of the dangerous situation we face everyday," says Purdy.
Also addressed in the meeting were wages for correctional officers and the impact of the federal government's 'tough on crime' legislation.
Purdy says wage rates for correctional officers in B.C. are falling down the list compared to other provinces and remain considerably below federal counterparts.
"It would appear that the government has heard our concerns and that we are making some progress," Walker says. "However, there is a long way to go yet."
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
Government release: Consultations begin on new jail site