A view of the South Okanagan on a sunny day as you leave the Okanagan Correctional Centre. For the final part in the Okanagan Incorrectional series, available in Fridays paper, we speak to a union boss and an academic about how to improve corrections and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth about the work being done on the B.C. governments part. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

okanagan incorrectional

COLUMN: When we fail inmates, we fail ourselves

Solutions for inmates go far beyond the walls of the Okanagan Correctional Centre

This column is part of our series Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.'s newest jail. Find our seventh and final part online and in the paper Friday. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.
This column is part of our series Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Find our seventh and final part online and in the paper Friday. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.

Inmates aren’t typically the most sympathetic individuals for the general population, but by ensuring inmates are protected and provided for, we all stand to gain.

The fact is, the default setting on issues like this is apathy. One has to consciously turn a dial to try to appreciate the causes of much of the crime filling up the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

That’s particularly true if you have been a victim of property crime, which is a violating experience. I had my introduction to local property crime in October — a locker (with a lock on it) at a local gym was accessed in one way or another and identification, keys and cards stolen from it.

It’s frustrating to be sure, and the thought of someone unknown to me holding onto my identification and keys was unsettling.

That is a problem that needs addressing. But that conversation too often stops there. It’s difficult to move forward from that violation to realize that is only the periphery of a larger tragedy.

Last year, well over 1,400 people were killed by an overdose in B.C., a situation so drastic that it has led the federal government to open the door wider to the once-fringe idea of prescription heroin.

Yet, that conversation stops there, and rarely do the two issues cross paths in the public dialogue in a meaningful way.

The vast majority of comments on stories of grief-stricken families of overdose victims are a sympathetic cry for help from a community at a loss.

But a cognitive dissonance seems to kick in when considering inmates, and eyes glaze over when the conversation turns to those most entrenched in the throes of this crisis.

“People in prison tend to be less educated, have more trauma, are more likely to be poor, more likely to be Aboriginal,” said Alana Abramson, Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology professor.

The issue goes far beyond the walls of the Okanagan Correctional Centre — or B.C. Corrections more broadly, for that matter. Solutions for B.C.’s inmates start long before they land in jail.

“I’m angry that we throw away vulnerable people,” Canadaland Commons co-host Ryan McMahon said in a recent podcast episode about solitary confinement. As he said it, the comedian’s emotions were palpable.

“I’m angry that, instead of responding with kindness and compassion in a country that is supposedly built on those principles, it’s much easier to deal with it in this way than it is to actually look at ourselves as communities and say ‘where are the gaps; how are people falling through these gaps?’”

Those comments rang familiar while working on Okanagan Incorrectional.

Crime is frequently not a product of the whim of bad people, but the result of our failure to provide for society’s most vulnerable, traumatized and poverty-stricken. Individuals for whom drugs have filled a void in their self-esteem, diminished first by trauma or poverty and second by stigma.

But beyond sympathy, there’s still reason to support inmates’ issues.

A jail is already an aggravating place to be, when people are stripped of their right to mobility. When you add violence and health care issues into the mix, and we fail to provide adequate vocational or behavioural programming, someone who may have gone in for simple property crime may leave and commit worse crimes.

“We have the most impoverished and marginalized people being warehoused together, and then not being provided the services that they require to give themselves a fair shake on the outside,” Abramson said.

“It’s a ticking time bomb.”

Okanagan Incorrectional

Part 0: Okanagan Incorrectional: Dashboard
Part 1: B.C.’s promising, new jail grinds into motion
Part 2: ‘Honeymoon phase is over’ at Okanagan Correctional Centre
Part 3: OCC inmates face more violence than nearly any other jail
Part 4: Okanagan jail used solitary confinement as overflow: advocate
Part 5: Isolation likely factor in drugs, rule-breaking at Okanagan jail
Part 6: Ailing health care biggest hurdle for Okanagan jail
Part 6.5: Remedying health care at Okanagan’s jail
Part 7: Correcting the Okanagan Correctional
Column: When we fail inmates, we fail ourselves

Report a typo or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Booze on beach extended through summer in Penticton

Pilot project will stay in place until Oct. 15

Princeton ATV rider slapped with numerous charges after complaint of near miss on the KVR

‘I would never defend actions like that’ - Ed Vermette, Princeton ATV Club president

Anarchist Mountain Fire Department extinguishes ‘flaming river’ on Highway 3

Blaze caused by truck that caught fire and leaked diesel across the road

Lower Similkameen Indian Band closes beach near Cawston to non-band members

The COVID-19 crisis “has not gone away” and “remains an ever present threat” says the LSIB

Morning Start: Dogs can smell cancer

Your morning start for Tuesday, July 7, 2020

84-year-old Okanagan resident finishes 12,000-piece puzzle

Willie Tribiger started the puzzle in 2013, completing it in six and a half years

Aces aplenty at Okanagan golf course

Vernon Golf and Country Club has 14 recorded holes-in-one since April 30

Fraser Valley woman complains of violent RCMP takedown during wellness check

Mounties respond that she was not co-operating during Mental Health Act apprehension

B.C. sees 12 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths

Three outbreaks exist in health-care settings

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

Sad ending in case of missing Okanagan senior

Body of Vernon man Wayne Orser found floating in Okanagan Lake Tuesday, July 7

COVID-19: B.C. promotes video-activated services card

Mobile app allows easier video identity verification

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Vernon murder case back in court

Voir dire held for one of two accused in death of William Bartz in July 2017

Most Read