Okanagan jail has concrete impact

The Okanagan Correctional Centre under construction near Oliver is on track to start taking inmates in early 2017.

Tedd Howard

Tedd Howard

The Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) is on track to start taking inmates in early 2017.

A year after the project broke ground, construction is full-steam ahead on the $200-million, high-security facility with an expected completion date of September 2016.

The 378-cell centre has the ability to house over 500 inmates and is creating 240 full-time correctional officer jobs, as well as jobs relating to the facility’s construction.

Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie was on hand for his second tour of the facility Thursday. The OCC is the first to be built on First Nations land in North America and is expected to be an economic driver for the band as well as the surrounding region, according to Louie.

“There’s not very many 200-million dollar projects. They happen once a decade, if that, so this is a huge project. Not just for the Osoyoos Indian Band but the entire South Okanagan,” Louie said.

With the start for many of the corrections officer jobs a year and half away, Louie said the information sessions have been well attended.

“There’s a number of young people looking to make a career move here. Even from some of our existing businesses, which is good,” he said.

The project has already created jobs for the local band with 20 OIB members working on the construction along with other First Nations members.

“Some from outside of the province, we have some Blackfoot natives working here,” Louie said.

The industrial park is fully serviced by the OIB providing facilities like water and sewage systems.

“After this project we hope to attract more projects here, which we’re currently working on,” Louie said.

Aside from being the first prison to be built on band land, the OCC will also feature aboriginal services for inmates. Louie said the facility has already committed to having horses situated around the prison, which he hopes will help with the rehabilitation of inmates.

“That’s just the start of the First Nation component of this prison,” Louie said.

MLA for Chilliwack-Hope, Laurie Throness, was also on the tour, and he said the prison is creating hundreds of jobs already.

“There’s going to be 378 cells in this institution, it will create 300 jobs,” Throness said. “About 60 will be auxiliary staff and 40 per cent of those jobs will be taken from the area here, so we’re going to hire locally as much as we can.”

He said around 1,000 jobs are being created both directly and indirectly throughout the construction phase.

“There’s a lot of jobs being created by this and permanent jobs. They are government jobs with good pay and good benefits,” Throness said. “We’re excited we’ll be here on a permanent basis.”

The facility has a 60-year lease with the OIB which is renewable for another 20 years afterward.

“We’re here for the long term and as you can see the facility is a very permanent facility,” Throness said.

Once open and fully functional, the ratio of staff to inmates will fluctuate based on risk like any correctional facility  Throness said.

“In a high-risk environment there will be lots of staff, there will be almost a one to 12 staff ratio. In a very low-risk environment the inmate to staff ratio will be higher. That’s a natural thing because it’s all risk based,” Throness said.

At the highest, the ratio could be around 40 to one according to Throness, who said that is mitigated by revolving staff through units, sometimes on a random basis.

“They also have cameras, within seconds there can be a critical mass of qualified people converging on any one spot within the prison, and they are built for that.”

The maximum security facility will be able to house any type of inmate. Those inmates start moving to the centre in 2017 through a phasing-in process.

“Clearly you don’t want to move a bunch of inmates in all at once so it’s a very phased process,” said Tedd Howard, chief project officer on the facility.

Service commencement begins in 2016 when the facility officially opens for staff.

“We’ll get our staff hired and they need to learn the building. We need to make sure the building is doing everything we need it to do. We don’t want the inmates finding there’s issues. It’s a complex project,” Howard said.

Staff will start training for emergencies, training for how to use building systems and high-tech security features. Recruitment of senior staff has already commenced and Howard said there has been a large amount of interest in the corrections officer positions.

“From Kelowna to Osoyoos, the Osoyoos Indian Band, we’ve had over 1,000 people come to sessions to find out what it would be like working in a correctional centre and so we are beginning the planning for all of that right now,” Howard said.

Those interested in correctional officer positions can visit ow.ly/MlJl9 and for more information on BC Corrections visit www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/corrections.