A fact-finding team of Penticton council members and staff spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting three communities in the Lower Mainland that house correctional facilities similar to the one proposed for somewhere in the Okanagan Valley.
The group, along with RCMP Insp. Brad Haugli, toured the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam as well as the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre and the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women both in Maple Ridge.
Mayor Dan Ashton said the trip is an important step in the city’s push to potentially bring a medium-security prison to the region.
“It was a very good tour,” said Ashton. “It was a good opportunity for us not only to go down and speak to the three RCMP superintendents of the areas that these facilities are in, but also to be able to speak to the wardens of the correctional centres directly and to their staff.
“We had an opportunity to ask any questions we wanted to and we asked an awful lot of questions. We were doing our due diligence, which I think is important and very worthwhile.”
Ashton said he would now follow up the tour by consulting with Lower Mainland mayors to get their thoughts on having the correctional centres in their communities.
“I want to make sure I get all the facts,” he added.
An enthusiastic proponent of trying to bring the correctional centre to Penticton since the Solicitor General indicated that such a facility would be awarded to a municipality in the Okanagan because of the jobs and construction/maintenance money that would be injected into the community, Coun. Mike Pearce said the tour strengthened his resolve to keep up the effort.
“I was most impressed at the safety,” said Pearce. “After listening to three different police chiefs from three different detachments near or around the three facilities; after doing a tour of the institutions and being right in amongst the prisoners; and after watching all the systems they have in place (including) the designs of the units, my opinion is that we should have absolutely no issues here at all.”
Pearce said that because the prison employees from the warden down — and above him or her to the political level — are all concerned about negative incidents, steps are constantly taken to improve protocols, “just like an airliner improves its aircraft maintenance after an incident.”
“The safety involved in the modern system is just phenomenal,” Pearce said.
City CAO Annette Antoniak said the rehabilitation programs at the three facilities contradicted what she thought life in a prison is like.
“(Inmates) can get training in trades and a lot of them get their GED for Grade 12 there,” she said. “All the facilities indicated that they work with the local colleges to create various programs.
“The other thing that really struck me was at the (FRCC) the warden told us that there are thousands of hours of community work done by the prisoners out in the community. So I thought that was quite impressive, as was the work programs that they have.”