Jail guards fear violence on job

Nov 28, 2002, vol. 25, no. 7
By Diane Luckow

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Correctional officers in B.C. are at higher risk of on-the-job criminal violence than any other employees in the province, according to a recent study by SFU criminology professor Neil Boyd (left) and PhD candidate Aili Malm.

The B.C. Government Employees' Union commissioned the recent investigation into the work of B.C.'s correctional officers in response to increases over the past year in inmate-staff ratios and the double-bunking of inmates, both cost-cutting measures initiated by the Solicitor General and the ministry of Public Safety.

Boyd and Malm's study reveals that B.C. correctional officers make proportionately twice as many Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) claims for on-the-job criminal violence (defined as violence that has criminal intent) as do police officers in B.C.

The research duo's investigation of WCB claims in 2000 and 2001 indicates that correctional officers are frequently attacked by inmates, sustaining serious injuries, trauma and exposure to potentially HIV-infected blood from inmates.

“What is most striking about data from our survey of 186 corrections officers is their discontent,” says Boyd. “Almost 80 per cent indicated they do not feel safe at work and 95 per cent indicated that their level of on-the-job stress has increased during the past year.”

Unlike federal corrections officers who deal with offenders who have already been sentenced, B.C. corrections officers deal with pre-trial inmates who may be angry, frustrated, or going through the process of withdrawal from various drugs.

The nature of their work, says Boyd, already increases the potential for violence. The study also reveals that correctional officers do not feel they have adequate training for responding to violent incidents within the prisons.

“The people who are responsible for protecting public safety - the province's correction officers - almost unanimously perceive their safety has been endangered by recent cost-cutting measures,” says Boyd.

“At the very least, the government has a moral responsibility to respond to these concerns. Something has to change and there are a number of options already available: decreased staff-inmate ratios, reductions in double-bunking, and improved training are three of the most obvious possibilities.”

For an electronic copy of the study email amalm@sfu.ca

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