B.C.'s prisons are not particularly safe places to be, but they are secure in terms of escape, according to Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness.
Throness was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Corrections in June and is about halfway through a provincewide prison tour aimed at finding cost-neutral ways to improve safety for corrections staff, inmates and communities.
After visiting five of BC Corrections' nine institutions, he said he's already convinced of one thing.
"I've learned that if they want you to be in there, you're not getting out," he told the Times. "They are
much impressed by the tremendous thought that goes into the architecture of the prison, how every aspect of every detail is fashioned for security and for safety."
But that doesn't mean life on the inside is safe or that safety for communities couldn't be improved, he said.
"I've talked to prison guards who've said that there are incidents of violence in prison, between inmates in particular," Throness said.
Finding ways to prevent peer-to-peer violence would make both prisoners and communities safer, he said, since vendettas established in prison can make their way onto the street.
At each facility Throness has been given a briefing and tour by management and talked privately with
one front-line staff member and one inmate.
"I ask them to be candid, and so far I've just gotten really interesting responses."
When he resumes his tour of the four remaining correctional centres in September, he also intends to eat a prison meal since he's been told food is often a safety issue, with inmates either fighting over it or using it as a weapon by, for example, microwaving a mixture of butter and sugar and throwing it at fellow inmates to cause severe burns.
"There's all sorts of ingenious techniques that people use to hurt each other when they want to," Throness said.
After wrapping up the tours, he will consult with various stakeholders, including corrections staff, community advisory boards, victims groups, police and municipal leaders during at least eight roundtable consultations.
His work will culminate in a report to Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton by next June that will identify potential challenges and recommend ways to improve safety in B.C.'s jails.
But those recommendations can only go so far if the government isn't willing to spend more money, said B.C. Government Employees' Union Corrections (BCGEU) and Sheriffs Services Component chair Dean Purdy.
Some of the union's main concerns-officer-to-inmate ratios, safe escape routes for staff in the event of an emergency and secure work areas for correctional officers- will take money to address in some prisons, Purdy said.
The union was caught off guard when Throness's tour and safety-focused review were first announced at the beginning of August, Purdy said, especially since a series of extensive WorkSafe BC inspections of B.C.'s jails has been underway since early this year.
BCGEU hadn't been asked to consult with Throness before his review was announced, Purdy said, and union president Darryl Walker sent the parliamentary secretary a letter Aug. 2 asking to be included.
"It's puzzling for us," Purdy said, "and that's why we wrote the letter we did to Mr. Throness. We're hoping for a response back and we're hoping we can be a part of this process because for us safety inside our correctional centres is number one and it's a .
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