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Kamloops  

Kamloops correctional officers protest prison violence

Around 50 correctional officers and supporters gathered today (Oct. 17) outside the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre (KRCC) to protest the level of workplace violence they face.

So far this year, 14 correctional officers have been assaulted at the local maximum-security prison, according to Dean Purdy, vice-president of corrections and sheriff services at the BC Government and Service Employees' Union. That stat puts KRCC on pace to break the average of 16.4 staff assaults (from 2014 to 2018).

"(There's) anything from correctional officers being sucker-punched, hit from behind, having feces and urine dumped over their heads, some of the most degrading assaults you can imagine," Purdy says. "Also, pushed, spit on, anything you can think of, that can happen."

A recent incident at the end of September involved a correctional officer being sucker-punched. When a second correctional officer came to his aid, the inmate attacked him as well. Both officers are currently recovering.

Bill Neal, a retired correctional officer, was one of those at the protest. He says an assault in 1997 put him off work for a year-and-a-half with a lower leg injury. He eventually went back to work and retired in January.

"I witnessed numerous assaults over the years; just lucky I wasn't involved in any more of them," he says. "It's worse now than what it was."

The issue, Purdy says, is the ratio of prisoners to officers. The current ratio in Kamloops (one of seven maximum-security facilities in B.C.) is 1:40, with one officer working in the same area where 40 prisoners live. That needs the change, he says, by adding a second officer in each of the living units.

"A living unit is a space in the jail; Kamloops here has two tiers. It would have a day room, shower area and an officer station in the living unit," explains Purdy. "They coexist and work in the living unit by themselves with up to 40 inmates."

Currently, KRCC has around 200 correctional officers. Purdy says they're not looking to double that number, just increase the number so that there could be two officers at all times in the living units.

There was hope that when the Okanagan Correctional Centre opened its doors, it would decrease the violence, as prisoners were spread to more facilities, but Purdy says in the two years since it opened, the violent trend hasn't changed. He says there's also fewer inmates due to the fentanyl crisis.

"With the opioid crisis, we have approximately 200 fewer inmates provincewide because of all the deaths out in society and in the jails."

Also affecting the correctional officers is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the violence.

"PTSD is becoming a big issue in our max-security jails; (correctional officers) see everything from really bad inmate-on-inmate beatings, hangings, slashings, vicious assaults with edged weapons and shanks, and overdoses," says Purdy. "We have a rampant drug problem. There's a lot of overdoses inside our jails provincewide and in Kamloops."

In addition to drugs, gangs and mental illness are also growing issues.

"(There are) more and more gang-affiliated inmates in the jail, and 60 per cent or more of the inmate population have some form of mental health issues, so we're really the default mental health facilities in this province as well," Purdy says.

Meetings have occurred between the union and the ministry for public safety, and a direct meeting between Minister Mike Farnworth is planned.

"He's well aware of it and he's told us they want to make some changes for the better," Purdy says. "We're hoping we'll see those come to fruition because we need some relief on the horizon."



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