As the opening day for the Okanagan Correctional Centre approaches, Solicitor General Mike Morris addressed some concerns related to the multi-million dollar facility just north of Oliver.
The 10th and largest correctional centre in B.C. is set to start phasing in inmates in January 2017 and the public can take tours starting Oct. 21.
(Related story: Public can tour correctional centre)
Morris, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said the OCC would be a net gain for the community and an “economic boon” for the region with direct and indirect jobs being created. He also addressed the concern of the influx of workers pushing the population of Oliver over 5,000 — municipalities with a population under 5,000 are serviced through an RCMP contract with province, however the cost of policing could fall to the Oliver taxpayers should the town breach that threshold.
“Of course the OCC is going to be a significant employer in the area and people may come to the community and reside there, but I think it’s going to draw from several communities around the area here. We’ll have to wait and see. If the community itself is close to the 5,000 mark it definitely might put them over and the municipal government needs to start planning for that and I’m sure they have been working on that already.”
(Related story: Oliver lobbying for more RCMP)
Morris drew from his 32-year career in the RCMP to dispel concerns the facility will be a drain on the Oliver detachment and staff.
“From my own experience (prisons) have had very little impact on policing resources, within the communities that they’re established in,” Morris said.
The correctional centre was completed “on time and on budget,” Morris said, with ownership transferred to the province in September. There are 80 staff members currently working in the facility, 45 new staff joining on Oct. 3, with the hiring of the final group of correctional supervisors underway — an approximate total of 300 direct jobs will be provided by the facility.
“Of course that leads to all kinds of spin off jobs to the community and throughout the entire region,” Morris said.
The correctional centre is the largest in the province, beating out Surrey Pre-trial with a total of 378 cells — nearly half of the almost 800 cells B.C. Corrections has added since the 2008 capital expansion plan. The OCC is set to house both male and female inmates as well as remanded and sentence-serving inmates coming from around the province.
“The additional capacity that we have will provide staff with more placement options for inmates,” Morris said. “That of course helps increase our safety right across the system that we have in B.C.”
Concerns have been raised in the Oliver community about the influx of criminals, but Morris said during his RCMP career he saw the impact of the correctional centre in Prince George.
Morris said the $200-million facility located on Osoyoos Indian Band land in the Senkulmen Business Park is a net gain for Oliver and the surrounding community. He believes the facility is also going to create efficiencies which will benefit operations at the Penticton Courthouse.
The complete list of programs offered at the facility, including the details of First Nations programs like horse therapy for inmates which Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie previously touted, it not known yet.
(Related story: Osoyoos chief says prison will bring opportunity)
“This is a great partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band and they will be offering some First Nations direct programs within the facility that will hopefully help the healing process and the recovery process for a lot of the inmates,” Morris said. “I don’t know exactly what those programs look like yet, but I am looking forward to this partnership and the benefits we can reap from that.”
Morris noted he has seen community work programs in Prince George with inmates working in the community similar to what the OCC will offer — something that residents should not be concerned about.
“These are folks that present a minimum risk and they are of course under strict supervision when they’re doing that. Again, I don’t see that as presenting any significant risk to the community,” Morris said.
The facility is equipped with “state-of-the-art security features” including computer-controlled door locking mechanisms among other safety features.
“I’ve had a tour of it and it’s quite an impressive building from a correctional perspective,” Morris said.
The facility is going to feature a scanner to combat drugs and contraband coming into the facility, which Morris admitted is a problem in B.C. correctional centres.
“Hopefully it will go a long way towards reducing the amount of drugs that are smuggled into these facilities and used by the addicts,” Morris said. “It is a problem, it’s recognized as a problem and we’re going to be doing everything we can to mitigate that as much as we can.”
The province expects the public tours later this month to be busy, encouraging those interested to put their names down early.
“We do expect a lot of interest so we need folks to book ahead on that,” Morris said.
Those wanting to take a one-hour guided tour must register by calling 250-485-8263 during business hours Monday to Friday.