Documents reveal projected impacts of federal crime bills, Liberals admit B.C. jails already too overcrowded

VICTORIA – Government documents obtained through freedom of information show what the Liberals have been hiding for months: new federal crime legislation will have a major impact on B.C. jails, and planned developments won’t even address the current overcrowding, say the New Democrats.

“There is a major risk to the safety of corrections and the public, and what’s worse, the Liberals have been aware and have tried to hide it,” said New Democrat public safety critic Kathy Corrigan.

A Sept. 2 briefing note from the solicitor general’s office says “provincial corrections centres are overcrowded, operating at about 180% occupancy.” A briefing note for a Nov. 17, 2011 Treasury Board meeting includes a graph that shows planned prison projects will only increase capacity to 2,197, far short of the capacity necessary to house prisoners at today’s levels. The graph further forecasts prisoner growth with and without impacts from federal crime bills. B.C. prisons, including the new Okanagan centre, won’t be able to address even the minimum growth forecast.

The freedom of information package includes an October 2011 slide for an Attorney General and Solicitor General Ministry presentation that states “Correctional centres are overcrowded. Safety of public, staff and inmates is at risk.”

“The Liberals have been saying there might not even be any impacts from the federal crime bill, and their own documents prove that isn’t true,” said Corrigan. “By the time the Okanagan prison is open and all other expansion projects are completed, B.C. will only be able to house 2,900 prisoners, yet the anticipated inmate population will be close to 3,200, not counting the expected increase from the federal crime bills.”

Corrigan pointed out the projected impact from federal crime bills pushes that forecast to 3,600 by the time the prison projects are scheduled to be completed, and to 3,800 by 2019. She added that the Liberals have allowed our prisons to become more and more overcrowded and dangerous for workers and the public, and that the government is desperately unprepared for future inmate population forecasts.

“Adrian Dix and the New Democrats have been saying for months that we can’t afford to pay for the impacts associated with the federal crime bills, yet the B.C. Liberals have refused to stand up on behalf of British Columbia,” said Corrigan. “The premier and justice minister cannot hide the truth from British Columbians any longer.

“Public safety is on the line. The Liberals must tell the federal government to provide the funds to pay for the impacts associated with their own crime bill.”