ED NOTE: An earlier version of this article’s title placed the blame for this understaffing on direct government cuts to prison staff, which is not entirely true. The blame can more fairly be laid upon increased inmate levels not being matched by levels of correctional officer staffing, which is something else entirely. My apologies.
Another aspect of BC’s justice system that is, sadly, becoming rather underfunded. Andrew MacLeod reports for The Hook:
Under staffing is putting guards in British Columbia jails in danger, Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd said today.
“We ask a lot of correctional officers in this province,” said Boyd while releasing Correctional Officers In British Columbia, 2011: Abnormal Working Conditions, a report the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union contracted him to research and write.
“It’s very dangerous for staff. It’s more dangerous for the inmates,” he said. The report was based on interviews with more than 200 correctional officers.
More news reports here. Neil Boyd’s report can be read in full here. An excerpt:
“Once, when I was taking an inmate to segragation, I started by trying to talk the inmate into coming with me. The inmate went on the attack and I received a 3 inch gash on my forehead, blinded by the blood from my forehead falling into my eyes. I had to hit the inmate in order to subdue him and put handcuffs on him, all of which exposed me to the inmates’ blood. I am still taking the necessary tests – the inmate had both HIV and hepatitis.
I have been continuously exposed to all kinds of bodily fluids. Blood exposure results from the inmate fights, which occur daily – sometimes more often. Spitting at me – or urine being thrown at me – usually occurs when I open cell doors, as our facility houses many inmates who are mentally ill.
It’s a common occurrence for staff to recieve threats from inmates. This year I’ve received seven threats, all documented appropriately… My facility is like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag. Inmates are sleeping on filthy mattresses on filthy floors because of the lack of space, and the health care is atrocious. Men with problems such as an abscessed tooth can wait 3 or 4 weeks for dental treatment, and men with open wounds are living in filthy conditions, which lead to constant infections. And even when people do see a doctor or dentist, there is little follow-up. The inmates are treated like animals, in conditions that I would not be able to tolerate myself.
Management shows little interest in suggestions from line staff about the many improvements that could be made in safety procedures, and doesn’t encourage or adopt innovative suggestions unless they can be used as an excuse to “come down” on staff for having done things in a more problematic way until then. There are few if any incentives for COs any more… we used to get letters of recognition on their files, but now we just get corrective letters.
Some of the violence I have personally been involved with, and witnessed in the last 5 years is so extreme, that it doesn’t even compare to the first 7 years of my career. The first 7 years, I can count on one hand the situations that actually made me lose sleep. In the last 5 years, I have witnessed many violent acts and many numerous group attacks that make me lose sleep. My anxiety has increased considerably enough I daily question my decision to have a corrections career and realize it is too late in my life to change now.
How about watching an inmate sneak up on another inmate with a brew jug and proceed to smash him over the head with it? Then while he’s unconscious, bleeding on the ground, proceed to repeatedly beat him with the brew jug and stomp on his head with his feet. Or how about watching four to six inmates take a guy from behind and beat him, jump on him, stomp his head, jump off a table, and landing on him. Or how about watching a staff member get attacked by an inmate, punched, kicked, wrestled, until backup arrives. Or how about a staff member who attempts to stop an escape from the hospital and gets beat up in the parking lot, with no help in sight – and management sent him there alone, with no background on the inmate who had been received from the RCMP. I can tell you of so many incidents such as these and more, but there is not the room on this paper or enough ink in this pen. The level of violence in this jail has increased to much that it is extremely scary. Most days before entering a unit I have to stop, take a deep breath, prepare mentally, and pray for the day to go well: that I will walk out of here and go home at the end of it.” 1
1 These comments are excerpted from telephone interviews with correctional officers and from comments made on the survey questionnaire and compiled in Appendix E. Appendix E has been edited for grammar and for spelling, in order to provide a greater clarity to the comments provided by the respondents.