Lockdown at PGRCC yields differing stories

A provincial government spokesperson and a union official are providing differing accounts about a lockdown at Prince George Regional Correctional Centre on Sunday night.

B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General spokesperson Colin Hynes said the lockdown was imposed after a small group of inmates set off the internal alarms.

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While the incident was brief, he said the lockdown lasted about four hours and firefighters were called in as a matter of protocol. He said one person sustained minor injuries but there were "no staff injuries."

But Dean Purdy, chair of the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union correctional and sheriff services component called the incident major and that the PGRCC's tactical team was deployed to bring the inmates under control.

"I can't get into too many of the details but a number of inmates had refused direction from our correctional officers and refused to return to their living unit and subsequently an incident occurred where there was some damage to part of the jail," he said.

Purdy said the incident speaks to overcrowding and understaffing at the facility.

"I can tell you that the staff I've spoken to directly, that work on the front line, they're very frustrated," he said. "They're worried about this situation and others going forward."

Staff are working "very large amounts of overtime" and time off due to illness is "way up," he added.

Purdy said the PGRCC needs more officer but is having trouble finding them due to the stress of the job and comparatively higher pay in other fields of law enforcement.

He said "probably 60 per cent" of the inmates have mental health and substance abuse problems and despite the lack of capacity to deal with them, B.C.'s jails have become the default facilities for handling people with those issues.

Hynes said there were 249 inmates in the facility on that night. The facility had been built to handle 172 males and 21 females without sharing cells.

In a followup statement, BC Corrections said between August 2018 and 2019, 19 new staff were hired to work at PGRCC, three more will start training at the end of this month and five more are listed for the next class.

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