Prisoners stage protest over sick inmate

A 30-prisoner standoff broke out in the Wilkinson Road jail Thursday night after prisoners decided an inmate had been denied hospitalization and proper medication.

The inmate has liver cancer and hepatitis C, said Camille Davis, whose boyfriend, Samuel McGrath, is in the same unit as the sick prisoner.

The inmate, in his 40s, has been off liver medication for months and every time he put in a request to see a doctor, the jail “was not doing anything about it,” Davis said.

On Thursday night, “it got to the point where he was doubling over in pain and pushed the panic button in his cell because he felt like he was dying.”

The nurse gave the inmate Tylenol 3 and sent him back to his cell, said Davis.

Around 9 p.m., 30 inmates refused to be locked up because they said the issue wasn’t being addressed, said Dean Purdy, a corrections officer supervisor and chairman of the Corrections and Sheriffs Service for the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. The B.C. Corrections Branch could not be reached for comment.

The result was a 25-minute standoff by the 30 inmates, who wanted the ailing prisoner to be sent to hospital, said Davis.

After the standoff, the sick prisoner was taken to hospital.

Davis’s boyfriend, who she said was always looking out for the underdog, told her the sick inmate is quiet, polite and never gets in trouble.

“There’s no reason why they should be denying him his health care,” Davis said. “If they hadn’t done something, that man would have died in his cell.”

Purdy said institutional charges will be brought against some of the prisoners involved in the protest.

“It was a tense situation that was able to be resolved peacefully, thank goodness. But this is another example of what the crowding in our provincial correction centres does,” said Purdy.

The Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre was built in 1985 to hold 206 inmates, but has previously held more than 400. On Thursday night, there were about 350 prisoners in the jail.

The sick inmate’s cell was designed for one occupant but held two inmates when the incident occurred.

“We’re severely overcrowded and it only stands to reason that when prisoners are incarcerated under these conditions, stress and agitation levels of inmates are going to be very high.”

Wilkinson and eight other provincial jails are operating at 180 per cent of capacity, said Purdy.

He said the overcrowding increases the risk of violent behaviour, escape and deteriorating working conditions for correctional officers.

Overcrowding promotes a “mob-like mentality,” he said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Since 2003, when the government shut down nine provincial jails, there have been 71 assaults on staff at the Wilkinson Road jail, said Purdy.

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