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Nanaimo escapee leads to concerns over supervision protocol

The escape of a Nanaimo Regional Correctional Centre inmate is raising questions about the effectiveness of the current prisoner-to-guard ratio policy established by B.C. Corrections for inmates that leave the correction facility.

Howard O'Soup, 34, gave a guard the slip Thursday while attending a treatment meeting at around 7 p.m. The meeting, the nature of which was not released, was held at a location away from the prison.

The lone guard, responsible for overseeing O'Soup and several other inmates, was monitoring two exits in the building when he noticed O'Soup was no longer present.

Situations like that, says Dean Purdy, chairman of corrections and sheriff services with the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, is why the union has called on the government to have at least two guards monitoring prisoners when off-site.

"It's my understanding, and I'm still working to confirm this, that there was one guard in this situation for seven prisoners out in the community at a meeting." said Purdy. "But really, the concern for us is the fact that they are still inmates, whether minimum security or not, they're out in the community, the safety and security of the public and the officer on the escort is a concern, and we've always said that all escorts, regardless of the security rating, should be defaulted to two staff."

For security reasons, B.C. Corrections says it is unable to specify its required inmate-to-officer ratio for escorted absences and that it believes its policy ensures that supervision is adequate.

A spokeswoman for the office added by e-mail that B.C. Corrections believes it is beneficial for inmates to participate in community programs so they can "improve their chances of successful reintegration into the community upon their release."

Every escort is determined on a case-by-case basis and protocols are in place based on risk level.

Nanaimo RCMP spokesman Gary O'Brien said O'Soup has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1991, mostly for property-related offences. Police are cautioning the public not to approach O'Soup as he is considered dangerous and is now wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, though police believe he may be in the area with family or friends.

A review of the incident by management at the prison determined the guard followed the correct procedure in reporting O'Soup's escape.

O'Soup is of First Nations descent, has short dark hair, is 5' 10" tall and about 200 pounds. He has brown eyes and tattoos on both arms.

Purdy added that his office has lobbied the ministry to increase the number of guards when inmates are being transported.

"Whether it's from correctional centre to correctional centre, or an inmate that's being taken to the hospital, or, in this circumstance, where the inmates were taken to a programming meeting, we think this situation would have benefited had there been two correctional officers present," Purdy said.

Purdy said what he is asking for is similar to policy already in place for sheriffs transporting prisoners and people in the court system.

O'Soup isn't the first inmate to escape Nanaimo Regional Correctional Centre guards.

In November 2010 Trevor McCabe escaped while working on a farm just outside the facility's fence, only to be caught a day later. Two prisoners walked away from Nanaimo work parties in February and November 2008 and two more inmates escaped the facility in August 2008 by climbing the correction centre's fence. Two other prisoners went missing from a work party at the Nanaimo BMX track at Beban Park in August 2007.

Anyone who knows of O'Soup's whereabouts is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com

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