Dozens of correctional officers rallied outside Wilkinson Road jail Friday morning to protest unsafe work conditions including high levels of violence.
Some officers came on their day off while others were able to join the rally during the 10 a.m. inmate lockup that serves as their break. The Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre at 4216 Wilkinson Rd. is the only maximum security centre on the Island.
Dean Purdy, the longtime BCGEU vice president of Corrections and Sheriff Services, and also a officer at Wilkinson Road, held court to bring attention to the unsafe conditions and lack of support the officers are experiencing.
“We’ve had unsafe situations for correctional officers, I’d put it up there as one of the most stressful and difficult occupations,” Purdy said. “A lot of people don’t know what goes on behind those walls”
He also said that “staff are exposed to everything from hangings to slashings, really bad beatings, overdoses, some of the officers have feces and urine thrown on them as a form of intimidation.”
There are about 200 correctional officers at Wilkinson and about 300 inmates, he said. Hiring additional staff isn’t the only solution.
What’s happening, Purdy said, is that ongoing violence has escalated at all seven maximum security jails in the province and not only are more correctional officers needed, but also a change in the way certain inmates are managed.
“In 2002 the officer to inmate ratio was 1 to 20 and now it’s as high as 1 to 40 in this Saanich jail and 1 to 72 in other B.C. jails,” Purdy said. “About 95 per cent of the violence is done by three per cent of the [inmate] population, the corrections branch needs to change direction and better manage how it handles the populations [within the living units].”
There needs to be more support beyond the inherent risk that officers assume working inside a maximum security jail, he added.
“Want to see more support for officers who use force to manage inmates, we’re seeing that support fall off. When they can do their job effectively it makes for a safer environment for inmates and officers.”