Union rep blames overcrowding, understaffing for B.C. prison attacks
A correctional officer was severely beaten by an inmate at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre (KRCC) in Kamloops, B.C. on June 24 – the latest in a long series of violent incidents in the province’s prisons, according to the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
“An officer was sucker-punched in the head,” explained Dean Purdy, vice president of corrections with BCGEU’s oh&s task force. “He fell to the ground, hitting his head on the way down, and was subsequently punched several more times in the head and body while he was down. And then he was bitten in the shoulder, arm and wrist.”
This was the second reported attack on a correctional officer in a B.C. maximum-security prison that week, Purdy added. A female officer at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge had been splashed with fecal matter and urine while being punched in the head by an inmate.
B.C. Corrections spokesperson Cindy Rose confirmed to COHSN that the Kamloops incident had occurred, but could not provide additional details due to mandatory privacy laws.
“While he’s understandably shaken, he is doing okay,” Rose said about the officer.
“That type of situation is very upsetting for everyone, anytime one of our correctional officers is hurt,” she added. “It’s a very challenging job, and they do incredibly hard work on behalf of all British Columbians every day.”
“This is not a one-off or an isolated incident. This is the 67th assault on correctional officers at KRCC since 2011 and the 10th assault on officers at KRCC this year,” said Purdy. He cited another recent attack by an inmate at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre in Surrey.
Purdy stated overcrowding as a prime reason for the excessive violence in B.C. jails, citing a 154 per cent level of overcapacity at KRCC. “Very unstable and violent inmates who should be kept separate from the general population are being held in regular living units, putting our officers in harm’s way, subjecting them to violence in the workplace,” he noted. “The staff co-exist with the inmates in the living units.”
But a more important problem was understaffing, he added. “We can handle the number of inmates if we have the right number of staff. We’ve been saying this for years, that we need two officers in each unit, and that will enable us to have a stronger officer presence, to make it safer for both staff and inmates.”
While acknowledging that B.C. prisons had been having a problem with overcrowding in recent years, Rose countered that the situation had improved.
“Since 2007, we have invested almost half a billion dollars,” said Rose, “into increasing capacity throughout the province, which, in turn, creates a safer environment for staff and inmates.” She cited a drop in the province-wide capacity rate from 180 per cent to 125 per cent since 2010.
Rose also claimed that assaults against prison staff in B.C. had dropped from 105 in 2012 to 70 last year.
“We do everything we can to ensure a safe environment, especially for our staff,” she said. “But given the criminal histories and the unpredictable behaviour of those that are in custody, it’s impossible to eliminate risk all of the time.
“Ensuring staff safety is our absolute highest priority.”
Purdy speculated that the types of inmates being incarcerated had changed as well. “The inmate profile has changed in the last five, even 10, years,” he said, “so much so that we’re just dealing with a more violent type of inmate.”
He added that WorkSafeBC, the province’s workers’ compensation board, had been investigating KRCC following the most recent incident.
“We’re hopeful that the investigation will lead to changes that will make our job a safer place to work.”