The death of an inmate at an Okanagan prison has led a B.C. sheriff and the correctional center to speak out about how illicit drugs are present inside jails despite a zero-tolerance policy.
An inmate died on Sept. 25, but the B.C. Coroners Service will not release the cause of death or the person’s identity as the incident is under investigation.
The death has sparked discussion surrounding safety and the presence of contraband and drugs within prison walls.
BC Corrections stated that it “maintains zero-tolerance for illegal drugs within correctional centres and has stringent security measures in place to deal with contraband, which includes illegal drugs and unauthorized controlled substances.”
A man, who has worked as both a sheriff and a corrections guard, in Interior B.C. said, that while corrections enforce a no-drugs policy, illicit substances are widely available within prison walls.
The man has asked to remain anonymous and will be referred to by the pseudonym John in this article.
John said that in his experience drugs are brought into prison by a variety of methods. The most common technique includes ‘hooping,’ which is the smuggling of drugs inside a rectum or having an accomplice throw tennis balls full of drugs into the yard.
He also alleged that guards are most likely bringing drugs into the prison, or are at least facilitating the smuggling.
John said that low job satisfaction, staff shortages and insufficient salary make employees susceptible to bribery and threats from inmates. He believes that the financial pressure and threats of blackmail or violence are enough to motivate guards to sneak drugs into correctional facilities.
John said that in the past convicts have asked him to bring drugs and other illegal substances in, but he has always declined.
“We know that people living with addiction will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to meet their needs,” said BC Corrections.
In addition to delivering substance-use management programs, BC Corrections said it has invested approximately $1.9 million into body scanners to enhance drug detection.
However, he said that those working the scanners are not well trained or properly incentivized to examine the body scans with conviction.
He said that staff shortages and time constraints add “pressure to push people through the scanner to get them back to their units, which leads to the major issues.”
The Okanagan Correctional Centre said it acknowledges that it is facing a staffing crisis, but that staff retention and recruitment is not a challenge unique to the Oliver facility. However, the issue of staff shortages isn’t unique to the Okanagan or even B.C. as prisons across Canada are faced with the same problem.
Additionally, John explained that when drugs are found on a person, or in their cell, they are typically just confiscated, and the inmate faces no repercussions. He said that many guards are not willing to go through the effort of calling the police and filing a report, and don’t want to put themselves at risk of personal harm by upsetting an inmate.
BC Corrections, however, said that “individuals in custody found with contraband can be subject to disciplinary action under the Correction Act Regulation and may also face criminal charges.”
John said that guards are constantly threatened with violence, but that it is also the fear of lawsuits that deters them from filing an official report. He explained that inmates are in direct communication with their lawyers and are quick to threaten legal action since a drug charge would impact time served.
Without the resources to manage a case that would involve the police and lawyers, officers in correctional facilities typically just confiscate illicit substances without any criminal charges laid, said John.
Ultimately, he said that the staffing shortages and low workplace morale are impacting the function of correctional centers in B.C.
“While some retention and recruitment factors are beyond our control, BC Corrections remains steadfast in its efforts to support staff,” said Okanagan Corrections.