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Canadian Prisoners Receive $3.5 Million in Settlements

Thirty-four prisoners in the Canadian province of British Columbia have obtained a total of $3.5 million in settlements from the government between January 2008 and March 2012. The largest settlement, for a prisoner's traumatic brain injury resulting from an assault by another prisoner, was $2.64 million. Most of the other settlements were in the $5,000 to $50,000 range, according to a June 1, 2013 news report.

Some of the cases stemmed from sexual abuse claims. According to British Columbia prison spokesman Marnie Mayhew, such claims resulted from the "actions of one former corrections employee for sexual abuse that occurred over a period of time from 1980 to 1996."

Attorney Tonia Grace said the fact that prisoners have been obtaining settlements and lawyers are more willing to take such cases is a good sign, noting that "both the federal and provincial government – if they think they are going to lose – they try to settle." She noted that "assaults are the most common situations that inmates come to me for advice on."

According to Mayhew, "Any incidents of violence are not tolerated, and we take them very seriously. When incidents of violence do occur, Corrections charges the inmate internally, and police may be contacted to consider a criminal investigation." She noted that "it is impossible to eliminate all risk."

Of course, when a prisoner is incarcerated the government assumes the duty and responsibility for his or her health and safety, and if they fail to properly discharge that duty they can be held liable. In British Columbia, at least, that appears to be happening on a regular basis.

"It is tough for our members to see multi-million dollar pay-outs like this," said Dean Purdy, an official with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union, which represents prison guards. "We don't know the details, but we do know that prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. These millions of dollars could have been put to good use to address the very real problems that exist within our nine British Columbia correctional centers."

He added, "If overcrowding is also leading to lawsuits by inmates, that's another reason to address the capacity pressures in a meaningful way."

Source: Vancouver Sun

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