It’s a story that has rocked the small community of Metchosin.
The two men , James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage, who escaped from William Head Institution last July have charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of 60-year-old Martin Payne.
The RCMP announced the charges in a press release issued Saturday morning.
Busch and Armitage escaped the minimum-security federal institution, which is located in Metchosin, on July 7 2019. Five days later, Payne’s body was discovered in his own home following a wellness check by local police.
Many questions remain following the RCMP’s announcement of the charges such as why were two violent offenders in a minimum-security prison in the first place and why the public wasn’t notified of their escape earlier?
“William Head has been part of our community for many many years, and there have been escapes every once in a while and they’ve been relatively benign,” said Metchosin Mayor John Ranns. “I think we’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security and this was a wake-up call to what could actually happen if something went wrong.”
The region’s mayor says it’s now time to change how things are done.
He says in Canada, the warden of a medium-security or higher could override the security status of an inmate, and send the prisoner to a lower-security facility without the consent of the warden at the facility receiving the inmate.
According to the mayor, this was the case with Zachary Armitage, who was sent to William Head, a low-level security prison, even though he had escaped previous prisons five times before. Armitage was also a violent offender and had been assessed as a medium-security risk.
“We believe the local authority should have the decision to able to veto power for the people that come in. [Local Wardens] are people that live in the community and understand the community and we trust them to make the right decisions,” said Ranns.
Victoria criminal defense lawyer Michael Mulligan says the fact that Armitage only had one year left of his 13-year sentence, played a large role in his placement at William Head.
“If you took somebody who, even has a previous history of escapes, and you decided to just keep them in prison to the very last day of their sentence, they would be subject to no conditions whatsoever, and that would make the community unsafe,” said Mulligan.
“We want people who have recently been released, to be subject to parole conditions and to be monitored to make sure they are transitioning back into society.”
Mulligan says releasing inmates directly from a medium or high-security prison back into society, is too dangerous. Inmates at low-security prisons receive training on how to budget finances, cook, clean, and get along with roommates as part of their transition into the community.
But the other major question for many is why the community wasn’t notified of their escape earlier? The incident was made public hours after the inmates had escaped.
According to Ranns, the community wasn’t notified early because of protocols at the prison.
He said that when an inmate is unaccounted for, there would be a search of the prison grounds and facilities before notifying local authorities. However, that is no longer the case, said Ranns, adding that as soon as an inmate is missing, local authorities are notified right away, even without conducting a search.
William Head Institution has also implemented other changes since the escape.
“We have also implemented a number of changes to improve the site’s ability to prevent and or manage future escapes, including adding an additional count of the institutional routine,” reads a statement from the William Head Institution.
The incident of the two men escaping in Metchosin has also resulted in policy changes at the national level.
According to Correction Service of Canada, wardens hoping to send inmates to a lower-security institution must get approval from a supervisor and can no longer override a security risk assessment themselves.