Once upon a time, correctional officers were called prison guards. But the name change is more than cosmetic, according to Steve DiCastri, warden for the new Okanagan Correctional Centre.
The corrections system has evolved over the years, he said, speaking to about 50 people attending an information session Saturday morning in Penticton.
“It is not just sit there and watch the inmates, you are actually interacting and working with them. And we do make a difference, that’s our goal,” said DiCastri.
DiCastri said they have about 100-125 positions for new hires when the OCC opens in 2016. The remaining positions, he said, will be filled by experienced officers transferring in from other locations.
So far, he’s talked to about 1,200 prospective employees at sessions like this one, not only about the requirements, but the range of work available inside the system, such as instructing prisoners in specialties from gardening to welding.
“It is a marvelous career. There are a lot of opportunities,” said DiCastri, who has spent 30 years in the profession and remains passionate about it.
For example, the OCC will have a greenhouse where inmates can learn about horticulture, with the resulting produce being donated to local food banks. It will also have a program dealing with wild horses.
“We want to link ourselves with the rescue programs in the Okanagan corridor. If they need us to house any, if they have an overflow, that is what we are going to do,” said DiCastri. “If we do get horses on property, we want to add a therapeutic piece to that for the inmates.”
Gary Saran, who works with at-risk youth, said he attended the session to find out if there is a place his skills and interests in helping people can fit.
“I would be interested in some of the positions where you help the inmates … learning ones and workshop ones,” said Saran, after watching several videos of programs at other correctional centres.
Likewise, Hannah Pierce said she was also interested in helping.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to be in the RCMP, but they had height restrictions. As I got older and had a family, that fell by the wayside, but my passion for making a difference in the community has never waned,” she said. “When I saw this opportunity, I was hesitant at first, but the more I talked to co-workers who are looking into it, I thought this would be something I would like to do.”
Pierce, who currently works as a gaming security officer, said she wasn’t surprised by DiCastri’s comment that the about 50 per cent of corrections officers were female, and often were better at dealing with the inmates.
“The type of work I am in, you have to have a certain type of communication skills and females are usually more open to that. Maybe I am not a big, tough-looking guy, but people warm up to me better, and I think that could be effective in the corrections field,” said Pierce.
As attractive as he made the job sound, DiCastri also talked about how tough the job could be, and the level of conduct expected from corrections officers, both on the job and off.
In addition to the information sessions, prospective employees will also have a chance to go through the physical aptitude testing at a session scheduled for Sept. 26 in Penticton.