October 12, 2013 - 8:40 AM
"THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE WHO WILL ALWAYS BE CRIMINALS."
PENTICTON - Justice ministry staff spent equal time explaining what the new Okanagan Correctional Centre is and what it is not to two different groups this week.
The new $250-million centre will be built and completed on Osoyoos Indian Band land by 2016 to house 360 male and 18 female inmates and will have 240 correction officers and other staff positions, justice ministry spokesperson Brent Merchant said. What it won't be is an eyesore, a drain on the Town of Oliver or the band, and it won't be a bad neighbour, he said.
Merchant, along with ministry and B.C. Corrections officials, were before Penticton council on Wednesday morning as part of an Okanagan information tour. They also stopped in Oliver on Wednesday evening where they were criticized by a few residents for not communicating, enough which one official admitted corrections could have done better.
In Penticton, Merchant explained the new prison will add jobs, hire as many local contractors as it can for construction and future services and help with overcrowding at the other nine B.C. correction centres such as the one in Kamloops. The building will also look like an elegant industrial site with glass walls and landscaped grounds, he said. What it won't look like are old prisons seen on television and its corrections officers will not use lethal force on prisoners.
The Okanagan Correctional Centre will house low, medium and high-risk inmates serving sentences two years or less, those on remand status, and who are waiting for their next court date, and immigration detainees.
Coun. John Vassilaki has heard some residents are worried about released prisoners. Merchant has worked in corrections and said former inmates are free to go where they wish and the vast majority of them return home.
Coun. Wesley Hopkin wondered if a new prison is even necessary as crime rates trend lower and prisons don't seem to be a deterrent. Merchant said the new prison is still required.
"Our goal is not to punish people. Our job is to get the people into better shape," he said, although he added: "There are some people who will always be criminals."
The economic impact will be enormous to Oliver, the band as well as the region, Merchant said. Local contractors and those looking for jobs will be able to access a registry set up by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce. This will help provincial officials find local expertise to work at the site.
Merchant said some inmates will be tasked to outside work, such as clearing brush, helping with forest fire fighting and other jobs. He told Coun. Andrew Jakubeit the inmate programs will not compete with businesses or those on the outside looking for work.
Lorraine Stephanson, a local blogger, said it is those economic impacts she is concerned about. Stephanson filed freedom of information requests to find what studies were done to learn the economic and social impacts of a new jail and what the risks were. The infotemation she received had no such data.
"This is a great big experiment," she said, for such a small area, with limited social and medical services.
Merchant and other officials said since the prison is in the procurement stage, many details are confidential. As for any environmental impact study, that was between the band and the federal government. The band was also granted permission by the feds to zone part of its reserve as an industrial park.
As for needing outside services, Merchant said most needs, including health care, are handled within the prison.
For more information on the business and opportunity registry, go to the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce website. Go to B.C. Corrections for details on job opportunities.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013