It has been just over one year since the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) near Oliver started accepting inmates, and while it’s a state-of-the-art facility, it hasn’t escaped traditional jailhouse problems.
BC Corrections said there were 94 inmate-on-inmate assaults and eight assaults on jail staff in 2017.
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“It includes all incidents that result in some degree of intentional physical contact or force, such as throwing items, spitting, scratching, pushing or hitting – and fortunately, most staff assault incidents do not result in serious injury,” said a statement from BC Corrections.
The jail also recorded 153 incidents involving contraband drugs and 21 involving weapons.
BC Corrections said the incidents include contraband that was intercepted before entering the secure perimeter.
The jail has also been sued by three inmates.
One small claims suit was filed by a prisoner who was stabbed by another while in protective custody. The second was for allegations of violence by a guard and the other for an injury sustained by an inmate while working.
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The union representing the facility’s jail guards said the inmate-to-guard ratio is unsafe.
“It’s crept up to as high as 60 inmates with one officer in the living unit,” said Dean Purdy, Chair of the Corrections & Sheriff Services component of the BCGEU.
“It’s just becoming more difficult for our living unit officer to manage the inmate population.”
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BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General got a firsthand look at the new jail on Friday and said more staff are on the way.
“We know that there are recruitment and retention issues, and in the facility here, there is hiring that is still going on that will help in that regard,” Mike Farnworth said.
He also addressed concerns about violence among inmates.
“It is, relatively speaking, a smaller population than for example down on the Lower Mainland and so a lot of them know each other. And if there is grudges and issues from outside being brought inside it makes it slightly more challenging.”
Farnworth added the use of new technology like full body scanners is combating drug smuggling.
“I think the new technology has made a dramatic increase in being able to intercept contraband coming into corrections facilities.”
There are 325 prisoners at the Okanagan Correctional Centre and with the numbers expected to rise, so too could the challenges.
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