Guards at a Maple Ridge men’s prison remain on edge a week after receiving a tip that a gang member was hiding a homemade gun in his cell.
Staff at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre received an anonymous letter from inmates last Wednesday alleging that an inmate had a “pen gun,” which would be used to facilitate an escape.
The prison unit was locked down after guards received the tip.
However, Dean Purdy, chair of the Correctional and Sheriff Services Component of the B.C. Government Employees Union, said it took two days for officials to bring in sniffer dogs.
He criticized the prison for not initiating a full lockdown.
“Anytime you get a threat of a weapon or gun inside one of our maximum security jails, we would like to see an immediate lock down,” said Purdy.
“A weapon or contraband, once it’s inside, can be moved around the institution, so you need to search every area within the jail. That didn’t happen.”
Although the prison unit and inmates’ belongings have since been searched, guards at the prison on 256th Street remain on “pins and needles” because they believe a gun may still be within its walls.
“That’s a legitimate concern for them,” said Purdy.
“A pen gun can shoot a .22 round.”
Instructions and videos to build a simple pen gun with a range of more than 20 feet are easily available online.
The prison guard union continues to blame overcrowding for contributing to many of the problems at FRCC, including a steady availability of illegal drugs, an increase in assault on corrections officers and “walkaways” from work crews.
Originally built to hold 254 inmates, the union notes Fraser regional is 200 per cent over capacity.
Most units have one guard supervising between 30 and 35 inmates, on some days the inmate to guard ration can climb to 40:1.
The union claims that their complaints about overcrowding and increasing assaults are falling on deaf ears. The union is now encouraging guards at FRCC to refuse to work in units if they feel their safety is threatened.
“Our concern is one of these days, a correctional officer is going to pay the ultimate price,” said Purdy.
“It is hard enough deal with regular inmates, you add in gangs, and it’s just a mess for us.”
B.C. Corrections stressed that staff do everything they can to maintain a safe and secure living environment at the prison.
Jesse Gunnarson, a spokesperson, said the unit was thoroughly searched by staff before it was allowed to return to normal operations.
“Bringing in dogs was just an additional measure,” he added.
Although the whole prison was not locked down, Gunnarson said management followed all required security procedures.
“In this case, we are fully supportive of how they responded,” he said, adding that during a meeting on Friday, staff even thanked management for the way they responded to the threat.
Gunnarson would not say how long the lockdown lasted for “security reasons,” but assured it continued until the threat dissipated.
Police are not investigating the threat. It remains an internal investigation.