BCGEU raises concerns with Minister as violent incidents in BC prisons jump forty per cent

At a meeting with the Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety yesterday, BCGEU president Stephanie Smith and vice president Dean Purdy (Corrections and Sheriff Services) raised our union’s concerns over violence in provincial prisons.

Statistics we received from government this week show an alarming increase in violence in B.C.’s nine provincial prisons. Inmate assaults on staff jumped 39 per cent in 2015. Total incidents of violence in the prisons increased 42 per cent.

“Prisons have become the default facility for housing people with mental health and addictions issues. This, in combination with chronic overcrowding, has lead to shocking levels of violence,” said Stephanie Smith. “Unfortunately I believe we still have some way to go to convince Minister Morris that the increase in violence is real, and that the government needs to do something about it.” 

“Inmates are being incarcerated in violent prison settings, then are being released into communities where programs and support services are in short supply. The public safety implications should be taken into account,” said Smith.

“At yesterday’s meeting Minister Morris said he expected the opening of the Okanagan Correctional Centre in early 2017 would distribute the inmate population across a larger prison system and alleviate overcrowding,” said Dean Purdy. “The minister said he would review levels of violence and officer ratios at the Okanagan prison after it is opened and reassess the situation. I would like a review of violence across all 10 prisons six months after the Okanagan prison opens. That is a reasonable amount of time to see if overcrowding is reduced and the violence starts to decrease.” 

“The Okanagan prison is designed and being built with a Correctional Officer to inmate ratio of 1 to 72. Our union still believes adding a second Correctional Officer to all living units would improve safety. Making our prisons safer would also help address the persistent recruitment and retention problem in the corrections service. Too few officers are being recruited, and too many of these recruits leave the service once they experience the violence inside our jails,” said Purdy.