Prison plan a sign of desperation

I am very disappointed that our council members voted unanimously to pursue the idea of having a provincial jail in our community.

This is yet another example of ad hoc planning, driven in part by outsiders who do not have a stake in the long-term impact of their proposals, and in part by our leaders’ misguided desperation to create jobs — any kind of jobs — that will attract people to live here, hopefully spend their disposable income here (no matter how slim) and add to our tax base (no matter how minimally). Of course jobs are important, but good jobs will arise from solid planning that nurtures a creative, knowledge-based economy.

What we fail to recognize is that desperation planning that focuses on service jobs brands a community as “poor” and contributes to a downward spiral that widens the gap between community needs for infrastructure and services on the one hand and tax revenues to support these needs on the other hand.

The arguments against a jail in our community, apart from debunking the illusory perceived benefits, are many. They include the mass of evidence that incarceration does not reduce crime rates, but education and reduction of poverty does. This leads to the moral conclusion that the same tax dollars would be much better spent on education and health care infrastructure for the mentally ill than on prisons.

But beyond this there are some very practical arguments as well, including: the likelihood that many jail staff will not live and buy or rent their homes here; that being branded as a jail town is in direct conflict with our avowed aim to be a destination tourism centre; and that any financial gains would be offset by the steep infrastructure costs to service the facility that local government would have to bear.

For more information on the true economic impact of jails on their host communities, readers should check out a recent research report from Washington State University: WSU Researchers Find Prisons Offer Few Economic Benefits to Small Towns at http://wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/publications.asp?Action=Detail&PublicationID=9420.

Our city and our region do not desperately need a jail. We do desperately need integrated, proactive planning to achieve a clear vision for a strong and flourishing community for future generations, driven by a creative economy. In tandem with that we need policies and an action plan with accountability that ensures every step is specifically geared to reaching that end.

Our community governance needs to play a much more proactive role in guiding our path to a prosperous future. A jail will not be part of that process; worse, it will make it much harder for us to reach our destination. It is the wrong way to go and it is regressive.

Gerry Karr

 

Penticton