A handful of correctional officers from the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women grabbed lunch outside the prison on Thursday during a noon-hour rally to draw attention to the ongoing violence in their workplace.
Dean Purdy, BCGEU vice-president, said there were 11 assaults on correctional officers at the Alouette Correctional Centre in 2018, and a total of 124 assaults at all 10 jails across the province.
Officers routinely face attacks with urine and feces, along with verbal threats, said Purdy.
They also have to witness inmate suicides, assaults, slashings, and riots.
He would like to see more officers in the living units at the prisons.
Shortly after the BC Liberal government came into power in 2002, they did away with the cap on officer to inmate ratios, he said. At the time, the ratio was one officer to 20 inmates.
Now, he said they have ratios as high as one officer to 72 inmates like at the Surrey Pre-Trial facility and at the new Okanagan jail in Oliver.
The Alouette Correctional Centre has an officer to inmate ratio of 1:48.
But he said, it’s not a matter of doubling the amount of staff at the facility.
Purdy said they would only require an additional 20 to 25 officers because the living units are only one function of the jail in addition to, “programs and case management records and a number of occupations, mini occupations within the jail.”
”You could imagine working by yourself in a maximum security jail in a living unit by yourself, where you are conducting counts, you are interacting with the inmates, walking around with just a personal alarm pager on your shoulder,” said Purdy.
“If you have somebody who is working with you, they could walk with you, they could remain at the desk and watch you as you are walking around,” he continued.
An extra officer in the living unit would provide extra safety.
“It really gives just that camaraderie of working with a partner. Psychologically it’s better. It’s better for immediate backup, for safety,” added Purdy.
Plus, he said, B.C. is the only province in the country that has direct supervision living units manned by one officer.
The rally is one of a number of protests that have been taking place at prisons across the province since June.
The first rally, Purdy said, took place outside of the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre.
In February of this year, guards protested the firing of eight fellow officers following an incident at Fraser Regional in September 2017.
The union called that wrongful dismissal took the case of six of those members to labour arbitration.
Four corrections officers were charged with assault in connection with that incident.
The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth was unavailable for comment.
However a statement from B.C. Corrections said nothing matters more to them than staff going home safe at the end of their shifts.
“That’s why B.C. Corrections has made an unprecedented effort over the past three years to introduce new and innovative classification and case management approaches, as part of the overall risk assessment process. These are expected to have a significant impact on preventing violence,” said the agency adding that the vast majority of incidents occur in segregation units, often with two or three officers present.
“This demonstrates that ratios do not change inmate behaviour or prevent violence,” said B.C. Corrections.
Instead, they said, new approaches that are rooted in classification and case management, such as implementing Right Living Units and Complex Needs Units for individuals who have challenging behaviours and/or a history of violence, are helping to realize real change for staff and the individuals in their care.