A review of William Head Institution, sparked by a prison escape, led to the reclassification of nine offenders to medium security as well as the addition of other safety measures.
In the early evening of July 7, 2019, James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage walked out of the low-security prison in Metchosin. A court proceeding that took place almost three months later revealed the pair took advantage of low tide and made the “spontaneous decision” to escape.
Busch was serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault and had previously served time for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody. Armitage was serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
Their disappearance sparked a manhunt by West Shore RCMP and the public wasn’t notified about the escape until nearly 12 hours later via social media posts. The escapees were found and arrested on July 9, 2019 after commenting on a off-duty RCMP officer’s dog out for a walk.
Nearly one year later, both inmates have been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Martin Payne, 60, who lived near the prison and was found dead in his home on July 12, 2019.
In September, court heard that a Correctional Services Canada (CSC) analysis deemed Armitage fit for a medium-security institution but that an override was recommended and he was moved to William Head in April 2018. In a sentencing decision, provincial court Judge Roger Cutler said Armitage had escaped in 2016 and that he was “perplexed” as to why Armitage was serving his sentence at a minimum-security institution.
An internal CSC report was provided by the Crown to Cutler who said the override was recommended because Armitage made positive efforts and progress in rehabilitation. His case management team did not believe he posed risk of escape, Cutler said.
After the escape, Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said the District was in communication with the prison and that a number of changes were made but that he wants to see rules in place so receiving wardens can say no to overrides.
“Let’s face it, it’s a federal institution and we don’t have any real sanction to get our way but that’s going to be our position,” Ranns said. “We won’t be satisfied until that happens. We want to let our local guys make the decision and we don’t want this happening again.”
According to an email from Correctional Services Canada to Black Press Media, a security-level review of all minimum security inmates under its supervision was conducted following the July escapes. The review looked at how CSC determines if an offender should be at the minimum-security level.
“During the review, a total of fourteen offenders were reclassified from minimum to medium security across the country,” CSC said. “Of those, in addition to the two escapees, seven were reclassified from William Head Institution.”
The other reclassifications were from Mission Institution, Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village, Regional Treatment Centre and two from the Federal Training Centre.
As for formal counts throughout the day, CSC said William Head was always required to conduct four counts but a fifth has been added. Inmates are required to return to their houses by 10:30 p.m. each night instead of 11 p.m.
There is also a process for immediate notification to local officials as soon as there is any indication of a potential escape, with follow-ups to confirm the escape.
“CSC conducted a full review of its national policy on media relations to ensure our communications activities are timely, transparent and responsive,” CSC said, noting a process to ensure timely public notification following escapes is in place. “As soon as an escape is confirmed, CSC follows a two-tiered approach to get information out quickly, using both social media and by issuing a news release to media.”
William Head has also updated its notification procedures for escapes after consulting with community stakeholders, CSC said. The procedures include timely and comprehensive notification to police, community partners and media.
While some community members, such as Sc’ianew First Nation (Beecher Bay) Chief Councillor Russ Chipps, are calling for the prison to close following the most recent escape, CSC said it will continue conversations with the public about how to address community concerns while ensuring its mandate of appropriately managing offenders and supporting their rehabilitation is met.
“William Head Institution is proud to be an integral part of the Metchosin and surrounding community,” CSC said. “Our staff live and work here, and CSC deeply appreciates the support we receive from the community.”
-With files from The Canadian Press