'I still don’t trust the system': Metchosin mayor says new rules don’t fix prison where murder suspects escaped
VICTORIA -- Metchosin Mayor John Ranns says changes to the federal government’s inmate assessment policy do not address fundamental flaws after two inmates who escaped from the William Head minimum security prison were charged with the first-degree murder.
The incident took place after James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped from the prison on July 7, 2019. They were caught around 8 p.m. on July 9. Within that 48-hour period, 60-year-old Metchosin resident Martin Payne was killed.
On Friday evening, the West Shore RCMP announced that Busch and Armitage had been charged with the first-degree murder of Payne.
The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) launched a review of the escape and of how inmates are classified for minimum-security prisons.
Now, CSC says that it has launched changes to its risk assessment of inmates, as well as other measures to improve safety for communities near minimum-security prisons. However, Ranns says that the changes do not do enough to address concerns.
Metchosin’s mayor says that his chief concern is that high-risk inmates should never be placed at William Head, and that the changes do not protect against that.
“There’s a rating system to identify risk to see who can go to these minimum security places and it’s a pretty extensive rating system, but it can be overridden,” Ranns told CFAX 1070 on Monday.
“That’s what happened in this case. These guys were here on override and the problem is the preceding warden, the local warden, who understands the program and understands the community and lives in the community, has no ability to say no,” said Ranns.
CSC says that it has streamlined its classification and decision-making process on who can be placed in minimum-security prisons. The changes include additional risk and psychological assessments, and an “elevated approval for security reclassification decision.”
Ranns says that he believes that the elevated approval could do more harm than good, and that decisions should be made by local authorities rather than higher levels of government.
“I still don’t trust the system to make sure that the right people are there,” he said.
“And I’ve expressed this concern all along, that it should be the local authorities making the decisions at William Head because they understand the program, they understand their prison population and they understand their community,” he said.
“So, until that gets changed, I’m not happy,” said Ranns. “I’m not convinced at all that the further up the bureaucratic ladder you go, and the further away from our community you get, that you’re going to get sensible decisions made.”
Ranns adds that the 2019 incident is a “wake-up” call for everyone involved.
“We’ve lived with William Head for many, many years and you know you start to maybe underrate the risk,” he said. “We’ve had escapes but they’ve all been relatively benign and you kind of get lulled into a false sense of security.”
“Well this was a wake-up call, this was a real wake-up call.”
A full list of the policy changes that the CSC has made for William Head can be found here.
The additional security changes include improved communication if an escape occurs, a new scheduled daily inmate count and the aforementioned upgrades to who can be placed into a minimum security prison.
Ranns notes that William Head has been successful in preparing inmates for a return to the community, but stressed that high-risk inmates should not be placed in the prison.
He adds that he is grateful for the work that local RCMP and staff at William Head have been doing to keep the community safe.
The mayor says that the community has had a good working relationship with the prison and its current warden and that he trusts the institution to do all that it can to ensure safety.
“I think there’s really a will, especially on the local level, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and I know that it’s really impacted the people that work there,” said Ranns.