The union representing BC Corrections officers says attacks against their members are on the rise. (Mitchel Lensink photo)

Bitten-off fingers, thrown excrement: B.C. prison guard assaults on the rise

Union: B.C. is only province where guards can be left alone with dozens of inmates in a living unit

It was revealed this week that a guard at Surrey’s pretrial centre joined an average of 95 others who are attacked by inmates in B.C. each year.

The union representing corrections officers said the guard “was badly beaten and lost part of a finger” during the attack on Jan. 2.

“That officer found himself in a very precarious position,” said spokesperson Dean Purdy.

He wasn’t the only one.

BC Corrections documents obtained by Black Press showed that 61 guards were attacked in the first six months of last year – about one attack every three days. If that rate continues in the next batch of statistics to come out, there would be more attacks in 2017 than in any of the past five years.

On average, 95 inmates were assaulted each year between 2012 and 2016.

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“The staff are at their wit’s end,” Purdy said. “We’re really feeling it.”

Another high-profile attack happened in 2012, when an inmate at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam splashed a guard with a mixture of excrement and soup. A union representative said at the time the incident appeared to have been orchestrated by gangsters.

The North Fraser centre has seen 16 attacks in the first six months of 2017, putting it on track to match the five-year high of 33 assaults in 2012.

‘Isolated and alone’

Purdy said a big part of the problem is the guard-to-inmate ratio, which he said shot from 20 inmates per guard to 72 inmates per guard in 2002.

He said B.C. is the only province where corrections officers can be left alone with dozens of inmates in a living unit.

“Every other province in Canada in a direct supervision model – where the officer works directly in the unit for their entire shift,” Purdy said. “All have two officers.”

He wants the same in B.C. “Otherwise, you’re isolated and alone and have to wait till you receive backup.”

Corrections officers work alone in living units of up to 72 inmates, the guards’ union says. (BC Corrections photo)

BC Corrections told Black Press it was misleading to say one supervising staff member was responsible for 72 inmates.

But a spokesperson declined to say how many officers were assigned to a living unit, saying only supervisors and staff made regular, unscheduled visits and that security cameras and personal alarms allow the guards to call for help.

A statement from the organization cited its “zero tolerance policy on violence” and a 2016 analysis of all staff assaults that formed the basis for better safety policies.

The statement said some living units might have only 10 inmates. A spokesperson declined to provide population data for its correctional facilities.

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Guards who find themselves fearing for their safety have few options to get away, Purdy said.

If they’re in their office, there are escape routes. But if they’re out on the floor, “the only place they can go is to lock themselves in a cell.”

They carry no weapons.

“[Guards] carry pepper spray, they have handcuffs and they have a personal alarm pager,” he said.

“The response can take 30 seconds to a minute and there’s a lot that can happen in 30 seconds.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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