Temporary building in foreground at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre was put in place to add living space. Two similar structures are in use at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

B.C. prison crowding probed by auditor

Security incidents on rise in provincial jails, inmates double-bunked and few completing education programs

B.C. provincial prisons remain overcrowded despite a decline in custodial sentences in recent years, and “safety and security incidents” have increased substantially, a report from B.C.’s Auditor General has found.

About half of cells designed for one inmate are double-bunked in the B.C. system, and Auditor General Carol Bellringer concludes that is a contributing factor in maintaining safety in B.C.’s nine facilities for adult inmates. Another factor in crowding is that about half of the roughly 2,500 inmates in the B.C. system on an average day are awaiting trial or sentencing.

Safety and security incident reports have been on the rise in most facilities in recent years, with the highest rate of nearly 1,200 a year at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge. Nanaimo and Prince George both recorded nearly 800 incidents a year by 2012, with lower rates at Vancouver Island, Surrey Pretrial, North Fraser Pretrial and Kamloops.

The auditor’s report says one reason for the increase is that incidents are being reported and tracked on a more systematic basis. Bellringer also notes that there isn’t a clear definition of what constitutes a safety and security incident, and B.C. Corrections doesn’t have a target of what constitutes an acceptable level.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said conditions in B.C. prisons are improving thanks to a $185 million construction program, including an addition to Surrey Pretrial, a new women’s wing at Prince George and expansion of Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.

A new 300-cell Okanagan adult custody facility at Oliver is under construction, and expected to open in 2016. Anton said that extra space will alleviate the space shortage at other facilities, but it remains to be seen if the new prison will allow the removal of tent-like temporary structures that have housed low-risk inmates at Kamloops and Fraser in recent years.

The audit also questioned the availability and effectiveness of rehabilitation programs offered in B.C. prisons. The audit found that only one program, violence prevention, was evaluated and shown to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The five core programs operated in B.C. provincial prisons are:

• Respectful relationships, to help inmates understand and eliminate abusive behaviours

• Substance abuse management, to reduce relapse and develop healthier lifestyles

• Violence prevention, designed to reduce aggressive behaviour

• Emotional management for women

• Relationship skills for women

Correctional centres also offer life skills, vocational, literacy and school extension programs. All programs are voluntary, and with an average sentenced stay of 71 days, some inmates aren’t in custody long enough to complete studies even if they want to.