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Hockey-stick attack probed at youth centre

Jul 18 2012

B.C. Corrections is investigating an assault at the Victoria Youth Detention Centre that left a teen needing facial reconstructive surgery after he was attacked with a hockey stick.

A spokesperson for the B.C. corrections union said the incident was a consequence of recent staffing cuts at the youth facility, but the B.C. government insists guard-to-inmate ratios have remained unchanged.

A group of eight male inmates were playing hockey in the gym on June 22 when an 18-year-old was attacked with a hockey stick, said West Shore RCMP spokesman Sgt. Max Fossum.

"It was totally out of the blue. There's no reason for it," Fossum said.

The victim was struck a dozen times in the head and torso, with the hockey stick eventually breaking.

One teacher and one guard were supervising. Within 25 seconds, five additional guards were in the gym to stop the assault, said Minister of Children and Families Mary McNeil in a statement.

The victim, a Nanaimo teen, was taken to Victoria General Hospital with cuts and broken bones in his face, which required facial reconstructive surgery. He may also have some paralysis to the right side of his face, Fossum said.

The teen has since been released from hospital and is recovering with family.

Fossum said the incident was caught on videotape, which investigators are reviewing.

Neither West Shore RCMP nor B.C. Corrections put out a news release about the incident. It wasn't until a tip came into the Times Colonist that officials released information.

McNeil said the ministry's review would determine whether any changes in policy, procedures or staff training are required to prevent a similar incident.

In February, 17 guard positions were cut from the Victoria Youth Detention Centre after the eight-bed girls unit was closed. Only six guard positions were cut when the six-bed girls unit in Prince George was closed.

"Our concern is that the staffing complement been reduced too severely and is there still proper supervision at that centre to keep a safe working environment for the correctional officers as well as the inmates?" asked Dean Purdy, spokesman for the correctional section of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

McNeil said in the statement the Victoria facility has one youth supervisor for every six to eight youth - a ratio she said had not changed.

Guards are not always present in classrooms, which the ministry said is an attempt to "normalize" the environment for the youth inmates. But the facility is monitored by video surveillance, and teachers just have to press a button in the event of an emergency.

"It's important to understand that this was a very rare and isolated incident that is in no way related to a reduction of staffing at the custody centre," McNeil said.

B.C.'s youth incarceration rate has fallen from a high of 400 youth inmates in 1996 to an average of 105.

Crown counsel approved charges of assault with a weapon against the 17-year-old inmate last week. The teen, whose name cannot be released under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, will appear in court July 25.

> Jail guards to protest, cite crowding, low pay , page A5

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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