Feds settle out-of-court with family of murdered inmate

The family of Mountain prison inmate who was strangled to death by his cellmate has reached an out-of-court settlement.

The family of Mountain prison inmate Jeremy Phillips, who was strangled to death by his cellmate, serial killer Michael Wayne MGray, reached an out-of-court settlement in May after filing a civil suit against the federal government.

But family lawyer Myer Rabin told The Progress last week he could not disclose the terms of the settlement because of a confidentiality clause.

“Hopefully, the process (of transferring maximum-security prison inmates to lower-security) will change,” he said, in light of the BC coroner’s inquest last week and an internal investigation by the Correctional Service of Canada.

Rabin said the family was “reasonably happy” with the five recommendations made by the inquest jury, but Phillips’ mother “knows she will never get her son back, and nothing will ever change that.”

He said Phillips’ father died while he was in jail, and Jeremy wanted to be released to take care of his mother by taking a job as a youth counsellor.

“He was planning on turning his life around,” Rabin said.

Phillips, 33, was strangled to death in his cell on Nov. 22, 2010, one week after McGray, 45, a self-proclaimed sociopath with an “urge” to kill, even while in prison, was transferred from Kent maximum-security in Agassiz to Phillips’ medium-security cell at Mountain Institution also in Agassiz.

Rabin said Mountain officials were “not prepared to change” a waiting list for single-cell accommodations for McGray, but instead double-bunked him with Phillips.

The jury is asking the CSC to authorize wardens to make exceptions to the wait list for single-cell accommodations in order to move a dangerous offender into them — and to make the change on a national level.

The jury also recommended that single-cell accommodation for all multiple killers become mandatory, “unless correctional service evidence and assessment determines that a shared accommodation is both safe and practical.”

McGray was assessed and approved for transfer, but Rabin said officials only took into consideration his behaviour in the past year, not the psychiatric reports and the inmate’s own prior statements about his urge to kill.

“They took his word, hook, line and sinker,” Rabin said. “All they did was look at how he was in the last year.”

A spokesperson for the CSC said a review of all five recommendations is underway.

Sara Parkes said in an email to The Progress that the CSC takes the death of an inmate “very seriously,” and that the CSC voluntarily took part in the inquest “to ensure that the issues were examined as thoroughly as possible.”

“While CSC has implemented significant changes to its operational procedures following the death of Mr. Phillips, CSC welcomes the recommendations the jury has offered,” she said.

But Parkes did not return a Progress call for a copy of the recommendations made in the internal investigation, and did not respond to the question of whether any disciplinary action was taken as a result of the CSC review.

Parkes also did not elaborate on what “significant changes” have been made by the CSC.

Gord Robertson, Pacific region president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, was also unable to describe what those changes might be, but said “a more streamlined process” to assess inmates for double-bunking is in the works, but “not yet finalized.”

He said correctional officers don’t always have the complete history of transferred inmates, and may not have known the risk posed by McGray.

He said correctional officers often end up relying more on what other inmates tell them about a transferred prisoner, “which could be completely untrue.”

So he welcomed the recommendation for all line staff to have access to all information about an inmate prior to a transfer, and the recommendations for better flashlight intensity and better ways to detect inmates’ body heat.

Phillips’ body was not discovered for some 12 hours after he was killed, according to McGray’s story, but correctional officers are required to check inmates every half hour at night.

Robertson said Phillips was killed on one of the coldest nights in November, and covered with blankets “it’s difficult to tell if an inmate is breathing in the middle of the night.”

But he said correctional officers welcome “anything that will help us do our job, and make sure inmates are alive and well.”

“Everybody wants to improve this, and make it safer for inmates and staff,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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