Unionized prison guards at Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver held a small rally Monday to draw attention to rising violence on staff in B.C. prisons.
Last year, there was a record-breaking 120 assaults on corrections staff in B.C. prisons. Abuse guards receive at work can range from inmates throwing bodily fluids at them to a case last year, where 37-year-old Jeffery Polanski was sentenced to two more years in prison for a vicious sucker-punch attack on a guard that resulted in 10 stitches and a PTSD diagnosis.
Last month, 23-year-old Michael Hannah had another 133 days tacked onto his sentence for attacking two guards.
“Violence should not be part of anyone’s job. We are here to end violence and end overcrowding at BC Corrections, and raise awareness to government,” BCGEU Component 1 Vice Chair Brandon Cox told the group of Oliver corrections officers Monday.
The union blames the rise in violence on climbing inmate-to-staff ratios. Back in 2001, inmate-to-staff ratios were capped at 20:1. Now, the union says that ratio can approach 72:1 on some days at OCC.
In a statement, the provincial government says its taking a number of steps of reduce prison violence, including improving “classification and case management approaches, as part of the overall risk assessment process.”
But BC Corrections says the union’s characterization of inmate-to-staff ratios “do not at all reflect reality.”
“BC Corrections does not staff living units on a fixed-ratio basis and to say only one officer is supervising a living unit with 60-72 prisoners does not at all reflect reality. The scenario of any correctional centre being full to capacity, requiring two individuals in every cell, is extremely unlikely.”
“An in-depth analysis in 2016 showed that the vast majority of staff assaults occurred with just one or two inmates present or involved an individual who was locked in their cell at the time, typically a situation where that individual threw something at a staff member through the meal hatch. This demonstrates that ratios do not change inmate behaviour or prevent violence. Instead, new approaches rooted in classification and case management, like implementing right living units and complex needs units for individuals who have challenging behaviours and/or a history of violence—are helping to effect real change for staff and the individuals in their care,” the statement continued.
BC Corrections added lone officers assigned to watch a unit have personal alarms to receive help “in seconds” as well as other staff and supervisors’ “frequent, unscheduled visits.”
The union maintains that increased double-bunking of inmates and fewer guards watching them means “it’s just a matter of time before one of our members gets killed on the job.”
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