Prison support overstated

In his capacity as RDOS chair, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton is reported as believing that a prison built “here” will benefit “every community”. He goes on to observe “we have seen a lot of community support for this”. Is Penticton the location he has in mind?

Roughly half of the speakers at Penticton’s initial public meeting supported a prison, with that support based largely on the possibility of job opportunities for local residents. This assumption is questionable.

Most, if not all, potential new jobs would be advertised through B.C.’s Public Service Agency and candidates would be assessed and selected on the merit principle. This requires considering credentials, experience, skills and personal suitability. Preference is not given to local applicants in these provincewide job competitions. Moreover, many openings would likely be filled by transfers of experienced staff from other B.C. prisons. The reality that presumed job openings may be limited will likely reduce the perceived local enthusiasm for a prison.

In terms of other evidence, the City of Penticton website has posted copies of letters to council on the subject of the prison proposal. A distinct majority of those letters object to the locations of a prison here. The same can be said of the content of posts on the city’s Facebook page. The point is that the level of expressed community support for a jail is significantly lower than Mayor Ashton would have us believe. However, it is important that those opposed continue to express their concerns in writing, given a possible call by council for letters of support for the prison.

The presumed positive economic benefits must also be questioned. There is no assurance that potential construction, food supply and other prison service contracts would be awarded locally. Unbudgeted social costs of a jail location based on experiences elsewhere have been pointed out by other writers. There is also a potential negative perception of this community by prospective investors.

In summary, assumptions that a jail location will present significant net benefits to Penticton are questionable, particularly when hidden costs plus negative impacts on this community’s future prospects are apparently not being evaluated and discussed by the city or the regional district.

Denis O’Gorman