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Keys swapped for tablets in Surrey jail's $185M upgrade

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



The people who run what is now B.C.’s biggest jail say safeguards are in place for a computer tablet system that allows officers to unlock cell doors by remote control — even if a device is stolen by an inmate.

A new $185-million jail wing at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre was officially opened Wednesday, expanding the big house to 365 cells.

The tablets use encrypted wireless technology to give officers communications and software they could previously only access through fixed staff stations.

“It’s password protected in case the devices are left for any period of time or if an inmate happens to get a hold of it,” said Pete Coulson, provincial director of adult custody.

The tablets will reduce staff workload, Coulson said, and would be a first in B.C. He hasn’t heard of any other jailhouse doing the same in Canada, either.

Facility warden Gordon Davis said having the portable devices could also make officers’ patterns less predictable to inmates. Where previously, inmates know an officer must physically be present to open a cell, officers can now do so remotely.

“They don’t have to move through the building nearly as often,” he said. “Huge difference in workload.”

Corrections officers’ union chairman Dean Purdy, however, is worried not enough new staff were hired to police the 216 new cell-living areas — which he said is about twice as large as the old ones.

Purdy said each “living unit” in the new wing is capable of holding 72 inmates if there were two people per cell, while a single officer stands guard.

“By putting in more units, you have more aggression, more tension, you have more inmates vying for resources: food, phones, showers. It just creates a tension that our officers have to deal with,” he said.

Davis said the pretrial centre has never reached that kind of inmate-officer ratios.

“And it’s not projected that we’re going to have 72 inmates on a unit,” he said.

“At any one time, there are always more than one staff in the new living units.”




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