A new government report warns that B.C. prisons are more dangerous today than they were five years ago.
Both guards and inmates are incurring violence with greater frequency in B.C. Corrections facilities, according to statistics presented in the document drafted by parliamentary secretary for corrections Laurie Throness.
“As I visited each of our correctional institutions and met with front-line staff, they told me repeatedly, in a spontaneous and unsolicited way, that violence has increased over the last two to three years,” the report reads. “The statistical record in corrections and health care generally echoes this trend….The evidence shows that we need to be more concerned about our in-custody population.”
Here’s a selection of data presented in the report:
|2009||2013||Last five years|
|Violence between inmates (assaults)||-||-||4,203|
|Violence between inmates (injuries)||830||1,145||5,382|
|Violence against staff (direct)||-||45||211|
|Violence against staff (indirect)||20||54||203|
|Incidents involving weapons||-||-||540|
|Inmate disciplinary hearings||4,374||3,876||19,841|
“The tale of injuries suffered by inmates is a sad one indeed,” Throness wrote.
Also included are statistics for weapons used by penitentiary staff against inmates.
A conductive energy weapon (commonly known as a taser) was only used once in the last five years. Impact devices were similarly only deployed six times. However, pepper spray—the “restraint of choice in the system”, as it's described in the report—was used 536 times during the last five years. The use of pepper spray is up from 89 times in 2009 to 145 times in 2013. Restraints (usually handcuffs) were used against inmates 83 times.
The report suggests a number of possible reasons for why violence is on the rise. Among them are changes in inmate behavior.
“In the past, there was an understanding among prisoners that older inmates should be respected,” it reads. “This is now gone. Today’s young inmates are more self-interested and with fewer loyalties, capable of engaging in acts of serious violence with little awareness of or concern about the consequences of their actions.”
It’s stated that “violence is also closely related to mental health, most often caused or exacerbated by addiction-related problems.”
Another issue raised in the report is staffing numbers. “Union representatives said that ratios of inmate to staff were once set at 20:1, and are now more than double that,” it’s stated there.
A Ministry of Justice press release accompanying the report’s publication states that the government is acting in response to Throness’s findings.
It states that in the “immediate term”, it will work to foster collaboration between B.C. Corrections and postsecondary institutions to “expand job training options for offenders and thereby better support their re-integration into society”.
Better job training for inmates was one recommendation among 20 that Throness included in his report.
There are nine provincial prisons in B.C. They generally house inmates convicted of less serious offences, holding people for maximum sentences of two years. The report states that B.C. Corrections supervises 24,672 people, noting that most of them live in communities under parole conditions. Only 2,462 people are actually held in a provincial prison today.
In July 2014, the Straight reported that violence has also been on the rise in federal penitentiaries. By several measures, including assault, sexual assault, and attempted suicide, Correctional Services Canada inmates are more likely to incur harm than they were 10 years ago, that data shows.