Prison safety: it affects us all

November 3, 2016

The growing rate of violence in B.C. prisons is alarming.

Hearing stories about overcrowding, gang violence, mental health, addictions, the increasing presence of deadly drugs like fentanyl, and inmate-to-inmate violence has made me feel immense concern for our members who work in B.C.’s jail system, the inmates, and for our communities.

Recent statistics show that prison violence in correctional facilities across B.C. has reached a critical point. In the last year alone, inmate on inmate violence has increased by 42 per cent. Assaults on correctional officers (COs) increased 39 per cent. The growing violence in B.C.’s prisons is evidenced by the dozens of media reports we’ve seen just in the last few months.

That's why your union has launched a public awareness campaign about the seriousness of prison violence in B.C. You can find out more at www.prisonsafetynow.ca.

You may know people who work in our jail system, or you may know someone who is currently incarcerated in our jail system and, like me, have concerns for their safety and well-being. At some point these inmates will be released into the community, and unless they have the skills needed to reintegrate, it becomes a safety issue for us all.

One of the biggest problems leading to increased violence is the high inmate to correctional officer ratio. In 2001, all jails had a ratio of one correctional officer to 20 inmates. Today, the ratio is as high as 72 inmates to one CO. That’s over three times the number of inmates per staff person.

Another issue is changing demographics in inmate population. There is an increasing number of inmates with addictions and mental health challenges, as well as the growing presence of gangs. In a broader context, this is a barometer of where we are failing in other support systems, such as issues of poverty, addictions and mental health, and providing strong community social services in communities that support people who are struggling. All of this is reflected by what is happening in B.C.’s prisons; it is all interconnected.

The reality is, prison safety is a public safety issue. Sign the petition and add your voice to urge the provincial government to provide safe jails for those who work there, those who are incarcerated there, and for our communities. Now, more than ever, we need to pressure the government to take action and make significant efforts to address these very serious problems. Our goal is to keep inmates safe and to ensure a safe workplace for corrections officers, and with your help we can work towards achieving this.

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