British Columbia

B.C. coroner's jury makes 5 proposals to avoid more inmate murders

Prisons across the country should consider housing multiple murderers in their own cells and allow dangerous offenders to jump the queue for their own sleeping quarters, says a coroner's jury that examined the death of an inmate by his sociopathic cell mate.

Jeremy Phillips, of Moncton, was strangled by his cellmate

Jeremy Phillips, 33, was found dead in his cell at the medium-security Mountain Institute in Agassiz, B.C., in November 2010, about one week after he was put in the same cell as McGray. (Corrections Canada)

Prisons across the country should consider housing multiple murderers in their own cells and allow dangerous offenders to jump the queue for their own sleeping quarters, says a coroner's jury that examined the death of an inmate by his sociopathic cell mate.

The jury that probed the cold-blooded killing of Jeremy Phillips by convicted serial killer Michael McCray two years ago has made five recommendations aimed at improving prison safety to prevent similar future death.

"Give careful consideration that (recommendations) are both reasonable and practical," coroner Vincent Stancato instructed the three men and two women who heard two days of testimony about the calculated slaying.

Less than 24 hours after the November 2010 crime, McGray confessed to police he tied the younger inmate up in strips of bedsheets, shoved a thick sock down his throat and strangled him for five minutes.

The pair had been sharing the sleeping quarters for only a week, and in his rambling confession, McGray blamed his crime on federal Corrections officials for moving him into a medium-security prison.

The inquest heard that while the 45-year-old had voluntarily applied for the transfer from B.C.'s only high-security prison, he had twice refused the move after learning he would be double-bunked.

He was on a waitlist for his own cell when he committed the murder, which he told police was an inevitable consequence of his mental health issues that stirred fantasies of stacking bodies.

Inmate information

Witnesses at the inquest explained the goal of Corrections services is to assist offenders to rehabilitate so they can eventually become law-abiding citizens and reintegrate into communities.

A series of assessments was conducted to establish whether McGray could live in the medium-security prison, with one calculation suggesting he still was on the borderline with remaining in the more segregated high-security Kent prison. But with nine months during which staff there felt he was making sincere efforts and received no charges for violent behaviour, they gave him a pass.

At the time, they hadn't received information that McGray had beaten another inmate over that period.

The jury therefore also recommended "all information" regarding inmates be made available to a broader group of staff before a transfer is approved.

It said mandatory single accommodation should be considered in the case of multiple murderers, "unless the requisite correctional service evidence and assessment determines that a shared accommodation is both safe and practical."

Body heat detection

Jurors further recommended that measures implemented at Mountain Institute following its own internal investigation into the death be carried out on a national level, such as requiring wardens to report on progress of high-profile inmates transferred from "special handling units."

The jurors also said Corrections should review its policy regarding flashlight intensity and explore alternate technologies to detect inmates' body heat.

The inquest heard five guards were disciplined after Phillips died because they failed to realize he was lying dead in his cell for hours before McGray himself alerted them of the body.

One guard testified cell windows are small and dirty, and although he used a powerful flashlight, it's difficult to do his job.

The prison had been in lockdown when the murder occurred, meaning prisoners were holed up in their cells, which McGray said he recognized as an ideal opportunity to carry out his crime.

The inquest heard there are currently 14 multiple murderers incarcerated at Mountain Institute, one of three medium-security prisons in B.C.

Brenda Lamm, an assistant warden, said among 260 cells, 60 per cent of accommodationsons are shared. Some 92 per cent of prisoners are serving sentences for a violent offense, like murder, aggravated assault or rape, while 30 per cent are being held on "indeterminate" sentences.