Seven inmates reclassified, relocated from Island minimum-security facility after 2019 escape

Seven inmates reclassified, relocated from Island minimum-security facility after 2019 escape
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Seven additional inmates have been moved from the William Head minimum-security institution since the 2019 escape of two inmates now charged with murder.

Inmates James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped from the facility in Metchosin on July 7 of last year, being recaptured just two days later. On this past Saturday, they both were charged with one count of first-degree murder, in the death of Martin Payne, 60, according to a BC RCMP media release. The charges laid are for an incident that occurred in the two-day timespan the inmates were at large.

Many have continued to question why the two offenders were even at William Head in the first place. Following the escape, one judge highlighted his confusion, particularly about Armitage, who had a history of prison breaks.

According to Metchosin’s Mayor John Ranns, 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 their consent. This was the case with Armitage, who was sent to William Head, a low-level security prison, even though he had escaped previous prisons five times before and was also a violent offender who had been assessed as a medium-security risk. Busch was also serving a life sentence for second-degree murder that he pleaded guilty to in 2010.

With questions swirling around the escapees, it triggered the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to review every inmate in minimum-security custody across the country, including those at William Head.

According to CSC, it looked at how the “security classification framework” was being applied in order to determine which offenders were classified at the minimum-security level.

Some factors they assessed included institutional adjustment, escape risk, and public safety.

Upon further review, CSC found that seven inmates at William Head Institution – in addition to Armitage and Busch – were misclassified. These misclassified inmates had their status changed from minimum to medium-security. These seven inmates were then moved to a different facility with higher security levels.

Corrections Canada has also indicated that it has updated policies since Busch and Armitage’s escape, including reviewing the status of all minimum-security inmates, improving the assessment process for transfers, and faster community notification for potential escapes.

Despite systemic changes to the assessment process, the community continues to call for further action.

“The government really has to take its responsibility seriously over making sure they have adequate facilities in the maximum and medium-security prisons so that it takes away this pressure on the entire system to push people down to minimum security institutions before they’re ready or who should never end up there,” said Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison.

Mayor Ranns added that the series of events that took place with Armitage and Busch is a “wake-up call,” adding that William Head authorities should get a say in the process.

“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.

Busch and Armitage will be back in court on July 23. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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