British Columbia

B.C. neglected to conduct formal prison inspections for 10 years, says ombudsperson

The report says prison inspections are key to ensuring the safety of the public, staff, and the 2,400 inmates. They're also required by law and international standards

Prison inspections are outlined in the B.C. Corrections Act and various United Nations conventions

B.C.'s ombudsperson says prison inspections are crucial to ensure the safety of the public, prison staff and inmates. (CBC)

A new report from the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson says the province neglected to conduct official prison inspections for more than a decade, despite provincial laws and international conventions requiring it to do so.

The report says prison inspections are key to ensuring the safety of the public, inmates and staff and to check that prisons are being run according to law.

"The ball was dropped when that responsibility went from one ministry to another, and that was clearly not a priority for the Ministry of the Solicitor General," said B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. 

Responsibility for the inspections at the province's nine correctional facilities, which house about 2,400 people on any given day, was transferred from the Attorney General to the Solicitor General in 2003.

The report outlines that no inspections were conducted between 2001 and 2012. 

Inspections are legally required under the B.C. Corrections Act and in accordance with various United Nations conventions Canada has ratified over the past few decades.

Budget cuts affected priorities

Chalke said part of the issue was that a transition plan wasn't put in place when responsibility for inspections switched ministries.

But the report goes into further detail about what the province said kept it from conducting reviews: a 33 per cent budget cut in 2002 that resulted in the closure of 10 correctional facilities and a third of corrections staff in the adult custody division. 

The B.C. ombudsperson says prison inspections examine many issues, including solitary confinement. (photo provided by Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada)

The report also outlines the province argued it had conducted periodic inspections, but the ombudsperson said they were issue-specific and only "undertaken in reaction to a critical incident," which doesn't meet provincial inspection laws. 

Inspections didn't resume until 2012 when the solicitor general implemented a new set of inspection protocols.

New guidelines also criticized

"We asked Corrections Branch staff why they did not simply adopt the inspections model previously used by the [Investigations, Inspections and Standards Office]," said the report.

"We were told that the branch believed the IISO inspection process was 'not helpful' for correctional centres because it did not sufficiently inform future planning needs.

"Corrections Branch staff also told us that wardens often rejected recommendations made in the IISO inspection reports." 

The ombudsperson took issue with the new inspection guidelines because they lack an explicit purpose, are inconsistently implemented, and don't provide inspectors with enough training.

The report also says the new protocols don't ensure inspections are undertaken by an independent and impartial party.

The B.C. ombudsperson's report says the office was told wardens often rejected recommendations from previous inspections. (Meesh/Flickr)

Recommendations

Chalke has now made seven recommendations to the province. 

These include revising the new inspection protocols, developing training materials for inspectors and assigning at least one independent person to inspection teams. 

"When implemented, these changes will ensure that inspections give priority to matters related to inmates' human rights, health and safety," said the ombudsperson's office in a written statement.

The office says the ministries have accepted all seven recommendations, which are expected to be put into effect by 2018.  

With files from Farrah Merali

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