B.C. prisons overcrowded and dangerous: AG

B.C. prison system overcrowded, unsafe and isn’t providing enough rehabilitation says recent audit

The auditor general has slapped the government’s wrist with an audit and an indictment of the B.C. prison system, saying it’s overcrowded, unsafe and isn’t providing enough rehabilitation.

“Overall, B.C.’s correctional facilities are overcrowded. They average 140 per cent occupancy,” auditor general Carol Bellringer said Tuesday.

Furthermore, the number of incidents in the B.C. Corrections system where inmates and guards’ safety was threatened jumped by 97 per cent in the last five years.

She called the rehab programs a “major failure,” adding that inmates who reoffend cost taxpayers $200 for every day they’re incarcerated.

“Inmates are not receiving the programs they need to reduce the risk of reoffending once they’re released.”

The report, titled “An Audit of the Adult Custody Division’s Correctional Facilities and Programs,” makes seven recommendations and provides statistics for each of B.C.’s jails.

According to the numbers, conditions have improved slightly at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, on 256th Street, where the level of inmate occupancy now sits at about the provincial average of 142 per cent, down from a high of 164 per cent in 2011.

The occupancy rate for Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge is at 110 per cent, compared to 81 per cent in 2011.

Fraser Regional has a total of 304 cells, while Alouette has 192. Alouette underwent a major expansion in 2012, when another 104 maximum security cells were added to the women’s prison on 248th Street.

Occupancy rates of more than 100 per cent mean inmates share cells that were not designed for double occupancy.

“Inmate numbers are expected to increase over the next eight years,” Bellringer said, adding the Ministry of Justice can’t show it can provide safe custody for inmates at such levels.

“I’m surprised,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing. “I was on a tour of Fraser [Regional] a year ago and there seemed to be lots of positive rehab programs there.”

The whole idea of being in the provincial system was to get training and rehab, he said.  “So that when they got out, they were better able to cope and kind of become model citizens again. So I’m kind of surprised she’s so negative there.”

The auditor general made seven recommendations, the first of which was to set up standards for safety in provincial jails.

It also suggested that safety trends in jails be regularly reviewed and that the government figure out a way to forecast the demands on its jails.

Other recommendations:

• the ministry has to be able to separate different types of inmates, such separating  as those awaiting trial, or in on immigration matters from those serving sentences.

• programs should be reviewed regularly to ensure they’re effective

• implement a quality-control system

• review case management process to insure inmates get timely access to rehab programs

Bing said Chilliwack MLA Laurie Throness, parliamentary secretary for corrections,  recently visited all provincial jails and released his own report, a safety review of B.C. Corrections, last December.

“I don’t sense that was his conclusion.”