By now, readers must be tiring of letters addressed to the proposed prison for Penticton. However, given the huge long-term consequences of proceeding with the project, the breadth and depth of ongoing community interest should come as no surprise; and should be welcome. Therefore, it is important to cast a vote in the forthcoming poll, one that is based upon a careful consideration of the full range of issues before us.
First, it is ludicrous to think that bringing to Penticton any new enterprise of the size, scope and influence of B.C.’s largest prison would ever be contemplated without the city undertaking and making public a comprehensive, location-specific professional impact assessment, covering a wide range of considerations—social, cultural, environmental, fiscal and physical.
Second, the best evidence available suggests: (1) that long-term net economic benefits will be at best neutral and possibly negative; (2) that a facility of this size will place huge demands upon taxpayers to cover otherwise unfunded and large incremental infrastructure costs, from basic utilities to policing; (3) that safety concerns, while overstated by some, will remain as powerful perceptions with unwelcome consequences; (4) that the phenomenon of stigmatization will determine who comes here — as a visitor, as a new business, as a new resident — and equally important, who stays here; (5) that the residual worries of property values, esthetics and environmental trade-offs will have a profound impact on the city’s long-term development; and finally, (6) that building an economy on the incarceration industry and the misfortunes of fellow citizens is desperation at best and morally reprehensible at worst.
Third, important as these consequences are, there is a more fundamental and far-reaching issue at stake, namely: What kind of city do we want Penticton to be in the future? Apparently, the mayor and the councillors who have pushed so hard to bring B.C.’s largest incarceration facility to Penticton have failed to remember that deliberations are well underway of the city’s Visioning and Strategic Planning Committee (upon which the mayor and all council members sit). For this reason alone, their reckless endorsement of the prison makes an absolute mockery of the ongoing visioning exercise. Indeed, by definition, the first consideration of the committee would have been looking at what makes a good city — namely what features are likely to optimize the well-being and life-satisfaction of its residents. Fortunately, more is known about this than ever before. However, having a prison as the community’s dominant industry simply does nothing to meet any of the accepted criteria of highly liveable communities.
(Not surprisingly, no small or medium-sized prison town has ever made it on anyone’s “best” or “most liveable” city list.) So, starting from a fall-back position when it comes to choosing a new vision is disappointing to say the least. This seemingly lack of imagination is both troublesome and dangerous. Accepting a future as second-best or “good enough” risks sending the message that all we are good for is a prison. Rather, Penticton should be concentrating on putting into place those conditions best able to attract new enterprises, and leveraging on these and existing assets — in town and on the periphery. We can do better, much better.
In a word, the irreversible squandering of the long-term and unique potentialities of the city and its surroundings — already threatened with a shortage of land and other resources — is sheer folly. So, to the mayor and council: Perhaps you know something some of us don’t. If not, do the right thing … admit you made a mistake … your credibility would rise enormously.