Correction officers protested outside the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre to bring attention to the rapidly increasing incidents of violence against officers.

Officers walked out during lock up for staff breaks, leaving the jail with a skeleton crew and joined other officers who were there on their time off.

Violence towards officers has been on the rise over the last five years, reaching a high point in 2018 when assaults on officers increased 39 per cent, according to union officials.

"Prison violence continues to escalate and assaults on correctional officers have skyrocketed. These officers put their lives at risk every day and it's just a matter of time before one of our members gets killed on the job," said British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union Vice-President Dean Purdy.

Purdy told CTV News that some of the violent incidents that officers deal with include hangings, slashings, beatings and overdoses. Officers have also had feces and urine thrown at them as a form of intimidation. 

What make matters worse, said Purdy, is that the ratio of inmates to correction officers has increased. 

Prior to 2001, that ratio was capped at 20:1. The new normal is 40:1 in most of the provincial facilities, but reaches as high as 72:1 in three institutes. According to Purdy, their counterparts in other provinces work at a 40:2 ratio.

Purdy also said that 58 per cent of inmates have either mental health and/or substance abuse issues. 

“We have mental health units but they’re nothing like the actual ones in the mental health facilities that have been closed down by the previous government," he said. "So we’re really becoming the default mental health facilities in this province and that’s sad because it’s the inmates that suffer.”

Most of the violence can be attributed to just three to five per cent of the inmate population and Purdy said managing that population in a better way would go a long way in making things safer for all. 

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General provided a statement on the walk-out.

"It’s important to understand that the vast majority of incidents occur in segregation units, and in those cases two or three officers were on the unit at the time. This demonstrates that ratios do not change inmate behaviour or prevent violence," the ministry said.

"Instead, our new approaches, such as implementing Right Living Units, Complex Needs Units for individuals who have challenging behaviours and/or a history of violence, changes to segregation practices, and anti-violence initiatives, are creating real change."

Purdy said the union has been in positive talks with the Ministry of Public Safety & Solicitor General but want things to change before it’s too late for an inmate or an correctional officer.