British Columbia

Inmates 'riot' at Prince George jail, take over elevator and damage building: union

Inmates at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre were placed in segregation following an incident that left one injured and the building damaged, according to the union representing jail guards.

Event latest in a series of violent outbreaks at B.C. jails, prison guard union says

As of Sept. 22, the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre holds approximately 250 inmates. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The union representing jail guards says inmates at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre refused to follow orders Sunday, resulting in a four-hour "riot" that left one person injured, the building damaged and staff worried for their safety.

"There was a riot at the maximum security Prince George Regional Correctional Centre around 8 p.m. that lasted until approximately 12 [midnight]," said Dean Purdy, vice-president of corrections and sheriff services for the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

B.C. Corrections confirmed there was a lockdown at the facility, and that an inmate suffered minor injuries, but said it would not be accurate to call the event a "riot" because "it was quickly brought under control".

But Purdy stood by his description, saying Sunday's incident is the latest in a series of violent outbreaks at correctional facilties across the province that have left guards feeling "burnt out" and fearful.

He said the incident began when multiple inmates refused to return to their living units.

Some of those inmates managed to gain control of an elevator and proceeded to damage the east and west lobbies of the facility, Purdy said.

He also said at least one inmate started attacking others, at which point the jail's tactical team regained control of the situation.

Purdy said one inmate suffered minor injuries as the result of being attacked by another inmate, and that there is "considerable" damage inside the facility.

"I can't tell you exactly how much, but I can tell you from our officers who work on the front lines, there was considerable damage," he said.

Purdy said the majority of the roughly 250 inmates currently being held in Prince George were then placed into segregation.

Jail still 'fully operational', Ministry says

B.C. Corrections would not confirm many details of the incident, citing security reasons.

"B.C. Corrections can confirm that a small group of inmates set off internal alarms at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre on Sept. 22, and a brief lockdown followed," a spokesperson said in a written response to questions from CBC. 

"One inmate sustained minor injuries, but no staff were injured. The centre remains fully operational".

'It's a horrible environment to work in right now'

Purdy said the incident comes after a series of violent outbursts and attacks his members have had to deal with in B.C.

Last year, assaults against staff at British Columbia's prisons reached an all-time high, with as many as 120 attacks on guards across the province. 

Purdy said staff at the Prince George jail have been expecting a violent outbreak for months.

"Staff are burnt out, they're feeling unsupported, and they've been predicting something like this would happen," he said.

Earlier this month, jail guards protested outside the Okanagan Correctional Centre, urging the government to hire more correctional officers.

In response to those demonstrations, B.C. Corrections said in a statement that "nothing matters more to us than having staff go home safe at the end of their shifts.... Our staff is our greatest resource and we are committed to supporting them and ensuring them the safest work environment possible."

But Purdy said despite some positive changes, his members still need more support.

"They're suffering from acute stress, from PTSD, and something's gotta give because it's a horrible environment to work in right now."

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