Expert explains how medium-security prison escapee could end up at William Head

WatchA provincial court judge is calling on the Correctional Service of Canada to explain how an inmate with a violent past, and a record of multiple escapes, ended up at the minimum security William Head prison. April Lawrence reports.

The escape of two prisoners in July set off a region-wide manhunt and left many questioning how two violent offenders could end up at a minimum-security facility like Metchosin’s low-security William Head Institution.

On Monday, a provincial court judge joined that chorus while sentencing 30-year-old Zachary Armitage.

Judge Roger Cutler saying “I’m just perplexed how someone with Armitage’s background and history of escapes is put in this position.”

Cutler said he was “bewildered” and asked “has the system failed him or has he failed the system?”

The courts heard that Armitage had escaped from custody five times before and was serving a 13-year sentence for robbery and aggravated assault.

Cutler noted Armitage had been using illicit drugs and has had gang affiliations while in custody.

In 2018, the Correctional Service of Canada assessed Armitage as a medium-security risk, but for some reason, that assessment was overridden and he was sent to minimum-security William Head anyway.

“Certainly on the face of it that seems like a surprise decision,” said Victoria criminal defence lawyer Michael Mulligan.

Mulligan points to a 2001 Correctional Service of Canada study looking at minimum-security placements.

The study notes “override use continues to be frequent” and that “30 per cent of override reasons found in a randomly selected sample of CRS (Custody Rating Scale) files were deemed inappropriate.”

Mulligan says there could be numerous reasons for transferring a medium-security prisoner to low-security including overcrowding or inmate conflict.

But he says since Armitage was set to be released in August 2020, the correctional service could have been trying to prepare him.

“The idea would be to carefully manage somebody’s release so you don’t go straight form a maximum security jail cell out to become your next-door neighbour,” said Mulligan.

He says they may have also thought it unlikely that a prisoner with so little time left in their sentence would escape.

Despite repeated requests, Corrections Canada hasn’t yet provided information on why Armitage was moved.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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