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Inmate attacks spur safety review at B.C. prison

Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C. Sunday, March 30, 2008.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/CPI

British Columbia's maximum-security Kent Institution is reviewing its safety procedures after two recent attacks on prison guards, including an assault on a female officer in which her cheek was slashed open.

"We're re-looking at our safety plan," Gordon Mattson, assistant warden at the Fraser Valley prison, said Monday, adding that Kent may change its "standing order" – a policy document that sets out how and when prisoners move around the facility.

The union that represents guards at Kent says the inmate responsible for the second of the two attacks had previously threatened guards, but that reports of those threats did not result in preventive measures.

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"There were reports that went in about the same inmate, making the same threats, that he was going to slash somebody," said Gord Robertson, Pacific region president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

The prisoner was in segregation when the threats were reported, but went from there into the general population where the attack took place, Mr. Robertson said.

Mr. Mattson said he could not discuss specifics as the incidents are being investigated.

Kent prisoners are housed one to a cell and may move around the facility to other locations such as dining areas, work rooms, a library and a gym. Those movements are governed by the prison's standing order.

"We're probably just going to be realigning that and reassessing that and making sure we're taking care of staff safety," Mr. Mattson said.

The first attack happened Thursday, when a prisoner in segregation didn't respond to a guard's checks from outside. When guards, carrying a shield, opened the door, the inmate rushed at them with a makeshift weapon, wounding one officer on the arm.

In the second incident, which took place Saturday, an inmate and a guard were in the same area when the inmate approached the guard with a piece of paper, indicating that he wanted to ask a question about the document.

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"As soon as he got close, he pulled out a sharpened weapon and cut her on the face," Mr. Mattson said.

The guard was airlifted to a nearby hospital, received multiple stitches and has since been released.

The RCMP is investigating both incidents, and the inmates – currently in segregation – could be moved to other sites, Mr. Mattson said.

Kent houses a "volatile and very unpredictable population," including some prisoners with mental illnesses, he added.

"Staff are really encouraged to be observant and to watch any kind of differences in behaviour and be prepared for anything," he said.

The prison, with 307 inmates, meets federal staffing requirements, Mr. Mattson said.

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Kent is one of the federal facilities expected to accommodate prisoners from Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary, which earlier this year the federal government said it would close within two years.

In a tweet Monday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said "my thoughts are with the victim of the attack at Kent Institution and all of our frontline correctional officers."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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