An officer with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union says violence in jails is at an “all-time high” over the past five years and the inmate-to-officer ratios are at “unmanageable levels.”
Correctional officers were rallying outside of Surrey Pretrial Centre Friday morning (March 8) to bring attention to the rapidly increasing incidents of violence against correctional officers. Between 30 to 40 officers turned out for the rally.
Dean Purdy, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) vice-president for corrections and sheriff services, said prison violence has increased over the last five years at all seven of the province’s maximum-security jails, but the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre has probably had the most violence out of any of the jails.”
In a news release from the BCGEU, it says that prior to 2001, the inmate-to-officer ration in B.C.’s correctional facilities was capped at 20:1. The ratio, the release says, “is now as high as 72:1,” adding that recent statistics from Corrections BC “show that assaults on officers and inmate-on-inmate violence continues to rise.”
The 72:1 ration, Purdy said, is at “unmanageable levels.”
Purdy said the BCGEU has met with the NDP government and Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth about needing two correctional officers in every living unit.
“We’ve given (Farnworth) some ideas on what needs to be done to try and get out in front of the violence,” Purdy said. “We’re hopeful – we’re going to give it some time – but we’re really at wits end right now. We need some changes and we know that the real issues is the officer-to-inmate ratios.”
Purdy said that the officers know that 95 per cent of the violence “is typically done by three to five per cent of the inmates.”
“We’re saying those 95 per cent (who aren’t violent), treat them differently from the three to five per cent,” he said.
Purdy said there also needs to be more support for correctional officers who have to use force, adding that a lot of this push for better ratios started when eight correctional officers were fired from Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.
A recent audit of B.C.’s prison system finds that more inmates sharing living units than the B.C. Corrections set as its target of 32 per cent four years ago. Surrey Pretrial Centre was fourth highest at 49 per cent.
– With a file from Tom Fletcher