The 378-cell Okanagan Correctional Centre is on track to be completed by fall 2016, and the new warden is ready to take over on day one.
Steve DiCastri is bringing his 30 years of corrections experience to the new high-security facility, the centrepiece of BC Corrections’ second-phase capital expansion plan.
Originally from the Lower Mainland, DiCastri is now living in Oliver after working as warden at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for over a decade.
“(I) am finding the Okanagan quite different. The friendliness of the smaller community is very refreshing. I am looking forward to being part of this community,” DiCastri said via an email interview.
The facility being built, financed and maintained by Plenary Justice Okanagan over a 30-plus year contract will take up about 29,000 square metres and feature state-of-the-art security and safety features with around 1,200 cameras.
The facility will also feature the standard range of rehabilitation and programs including educational programs for various skilled trades, as well as community work programs. Appropriately classified inmates will be able to participate in supervised community work programs, according to DiCastri.
“Only low-risk, open-custody inmates can take part,” DiCastri said.
The partnerships with the community could involve roadside clearing, park enhancement, firewood production, supporting fire suppression teams and work with non-profit organizations, if requested by the community. The programs could also include cultivating produce for the local food bank.
During a tour of the facility in May, Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie told the Western News that the facility, built in cooperation with the OIB on band land, would feature rehabilitation programs with First Nations roots including therapeutic work with horses. It would be a first for a correctional centre in Canada, however, DiCastri said nothing is set in stone.
“BC Corrections shares Chief Louie’s interest in developing this opportunity for inmates at OCC. However, BC Corrections is still in the preliminary stages of planning the programming and community service options that will be available for inmates at the centre once it is complete in 2016,” DiCastri said.
The facility will also house a 18-cell female component, but not many women will be housed at the facility for very long DiCastri said. “It is difficult to predict the number of female inmates that will be held at the 18-cell female unit at the OCC.”
“BC Corrections’ daily inmate count averages approximately 2,400, with a significant majority of those in custody being male,” he said. “Typically females on remand or short sentences would be housed at the OCC.”
Most B.C. female inmates are housed at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge.
While the facility isn’t open yet, DiCastri has been on the job since January helping with staff planning and recruitment, as well as getting the site operational and supporting other province-wide projects for BC Corrections.
The facility has already hired three deputy wardens in Karyne Steele, Debby Rempel and Jason Heath, and DiCastri says they “all have extensive experience with BC Corrections,” and they are set to start their positions in September.
However, there are still 240 full-time spaces for correctional officers.
The Ministry of Justice announced on Thursday three free information sessions regarding becoming a correctional officer at the facility. The correctional officer jobs are set to open up when the construction is completed in late 2016.
For the first time the readiness sessions will feature physical abilities testing, the first step in the process of securing one of the correctional officer jobs according to a release from the Ministry. Applicants will have the opportunity to take on the Corrections Officer’s Physical Abilities Test (COPAT), an application requirement. The standard test used across Canada determines whether an applicant is able to handle the physical demands of the job.
The test involves activities like running stairs, dodging obstacles, pushing and pulling heavy objects and gaining control over a resisting subject by demonstrating endurance and agility.
The free sessions, held in partnership with the Justice Institute of BC, include information about corrections and the justice system, the roles and duties of a correctional officer and the unique needs of the offender population, along with information on preparing to apply for jobs.
The three sessions take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Penticton on Sept. 5 at the Days Inn, 15 Riverside Dr.; in Oliver Sept. 6 at the Oliver South Okanagan Secondary School, 6140 Gala St.; and in Kelowna Sept. 12 at the Justice Institute of BC, 825 Walrod St.
To date, over 1,000 people have turned out to learn about the OCC jobs.