Prison guards protested the firing of eight staff members from the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre and what they say are dangerously low staffing levels in provincial jails in Maple Ridge on Friday morning.
Prior to 2002, the ratio of inmates to staff was capped at 20-1, but is now at approximately 40-1 at the Maple Ridge prison, and even higher at others.
“How do you keep track of 40 inmates if you are one person?” said a staff representative with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. “That results in safety issues for our members, and also safety issues for inmates,” he said.
The number of assaults in prisons – including assaults on guards, has been rising in incidence and severity, said Dean Purdy of the BCGEU, who oversees corrections officers. The call to lower the ratio has been a long-term campaign for the union, which would mean hiring more officers.
Dean Purdy of BCGEU talks about protest in Maple Ridge pic.twitter.com/AdleII40Kf
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“We need to support members who have to use force in the line of work,” said Purdy on Friday, adding the protest was also to “bring an awareness of the ongoing violence that our members face every day when they go to work.”
They were also protesting the dismissal of eight corrections officers who were fired after a violent incident at the facility on 256th Street in September of 2017.
The union calls it a wrongful dismissal, and is taking the case of six of those members to a labour arbitration. Purdy did not comment on the other two members.
Four corrections officers were charged with assault in connection with that incident, and they are to appear in Port Coquitlam provincial court on Feb. 26.
Six more officers faced discipline by BC Corrections after the same incident.
Purdy said in a December union notice the incident took place in September in a living unit after “an unprovoked, violent attack,” and that other officers responded and “secured the inmate.”
“Four of our own are facing criminal charges after coming to the aid of a fellow correctional officer …” he said.
He noted Ridge Meadows RCMP investigated, but made no recommendation at the time about charges for the officers. However, last November, the Crown filed charges.
“Without prejudicing the case, we note that this situation could happen to any one of us working in corrections and sheriff services,” Purdy said.
He said the demographics in prisons has changed, with more inmates with mental health issues and gang affiliations.
“We are really the default mental health facilities in this province now. Which is a shame.”