Provincial prisons bracing for higher numbers

Due to federal crime laws

The new $42.7-million secure wing that opens at ACCW next year will allow the transfer of female inmates from the Surrey Pre Trial Centre

The new $42.7-million secure wing that opens at ACCW next year will allow the transfer of female inmates from the Surrey Pre Trial Centre

The worries about the Conservatives’ get-tough-on-crime policies is reaching to the provincial system, where numbers are expected to climb as result of more people being thrown into jail.

The effects of the removal of the two-for-one time-served credit for inmates awaiting trial is just starting to be felt, Peter Coulson, provincial director of B.C. Corrections told Maple Ridge council Monday.

But that’s reducing the numbers in remand.

Exactly how other parts of the get-tough-on crime laws that are expected from the majority government will impact the provincial system remains to be seen.

“We really are at the mercy of the feds on this,” Coulson said.

“I know that for my counterparts across the country, it’s front and centre in their minds, because we know we’ll feel an impact. We know that. We know there will be an impact, we just don’t know how much.”

However, one part of the expected get-tough-on-crime bill, could be elimination of conditional sentencing (house arrest) for violent crimes, which could add another 271 inmates to the provincial system.

It is already stretched.

“We are continuing to face capacity issues in the province,” Coulson said.

The nine prisons in the B.C. system, including two in Maple Ridge, are at 160 per cent capacity, he added.

“We know we will be experiencing pressure – probably until 2020.”

The federal government announced its intent of getting tougher on crime in its June 3 Throne Speech after winning a majority in the May election.

Coulson, along with Fraser Regional Correctional Centre warden Steve DiCastri and Alouette Correctional Centre for Women warden Lisa Anderson touched on several topics in their report to council.

DiCastri will meet with the Webster’s Corners Neighbourhood Association, which wants to revive the telephone notification system any time an inmate goes missing.

Currently, the institution doesn’t do that, leaving police to decide how to deal with any walkaways.

That could involve door-to-door notification of a missing inmate if there are concerns the inmate is violent.

But that’s not the case if a prisoner on a work crew in the community decides to skip out early.

“The vast majority of them make arrangements for them to pick them up, so they get in the car and they’re gone. The last place they want to be is in this area.”

So far, there have been five walkaways from open custody this year.

When inmates finish their terms, they’re either given a ride and bus fare to the Haney bus exchange or Greyhound station, so they have a way of getting home.

The new $42.7-million secure wing that opens at ACCW next year will allow the transfer of female inmates from the Surrey Pre Trial Centre, freeing up about 90 beds.

The design allows more efficient movement and better supervision of inmates and is attracting attention from across the country. Representatives from every provincial and territorial prison system have visited the building, Coulson said.

“It’s really state-of-the-art correctional architecture that all the provinces are coming to see.”

The addition of the secure wing means health care at ACCW will now be offered on a 24-hour rather than 16-hour basis, council heard.

DiCastri said there are currently 500 inmates at Fraser Regional. The prison has 304 cells, including temporary structures built next the main building, and each cell can accommodate two inmates.

“Staff assaults are minimal at Fraser. It does happen in the environment we’re in, but all in all, things are going quite well.”

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 “walk-aways” from work crews.

Only 10 of the Tamil refugee claimants who arrived by boat last year remain at the jail.