Guards hold noon-hour protest over prison safety

Number of inmates, attacks on officers, increasing says union

Correctional officers stood in the heavy snow halfway up the mountain in Maple Ridge Friday, in front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, calling for better working conditions.

The number of inmates and the type of inmates crammed into B.C. jails, is threatening the safety of guards, said Dean Purdy with the B.C. Government Employees Union.

He said the inmate-to-staff ratio is now as high as 72:1. He said in a release Friday that before 2001, that ratio was capped at 20:1.

“Unless changes are made, B.C.’s correctional officers will continue to be put at high risk.”

Recently, a prison guard had his finger cut off while another had his head stomped on by inmates while he was unconscious. A female officer had feces thrown in her face. The number of attacks on officers is skyrocketing, he added.

“We could easily have had a death on the job,” Purdy said. The union is meeting with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General soon to discuss the issue.

Maple Ridge resident Verity Howarth said she has friends who work in the Maple Ridge prison and worries about their safety. “When you look at the staffing ratios, it’s same thing I see in health and education.”

“But these guys, when they go in there with these ratios, they’re in danger. If something happens and they don’t even have support lose their jobs, I think that’s very dangerous.”

Two officers recently have been disciplined for use of force in an altercation with an inmate but the process is being grieved by the union.

An auditor’s general report in 2015 said that Fraser Regional racked up the highest number of safety and security incidents, nearly 1,200 year, by 2012. That’s about 50 per cent more than the next-most violent prisons in the B.C. Corrections system in Nanaimo and Prince George.

That also represented a 33-per-cent increase at Fraser Regional over the previous year.

Purdy added that Fraser Regional was built with a capacity for about 300 inmates but now has more than 500.

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