Prison announcement not all good news

The Justice Ministry has issued releases claiming major benefits.

To the Editor:

Lamenting democratic dysfunction, journalist Andrew Coyne (Vancouver Sun Oct.3) observed “Governments refuse to answer questions, release documents, give out correct figures or otherwise meet their . . . obligations”.

This sounds like the BC Justice Ministry respecting economic and social impacts of the proposed Oliver prison.  At Oliver’s October meeting, BC Corrections (BCC) Director Marnie Mayhew stated that law prevents release of impact assessments.  What contrivance: simply append studies to cabinet documents to render them confidential!

That follows BCC’s blotting out 339 of 343 pages of requested studies.  These are presumably incomplete, inadequate, or arrive at conclusions unfavorable to a South Okanagan prison location.

The Justice Ministry has issued releases claiming major benefits.  BCC’s Brent Merchant asked how could prison-related spending not benefit this area. The answers are basic.  First, there are leakages based on contracts and materials being sourced elsewhere for cost savings. Second, there are costs and risks.  Such costs can be direct and indirect.

Direct costs include increased requirements for local policing.  BCC stated those costs are not the BC Government’s responsibility. BCC claims to look after their clients’ health, yet statistics on the 300 cell North Fraser Pretrial Centre report 510 inmate visits to regional health services in 2012.

Indirect costs come in the form of a rural prison’s detrimental effects on real estate numbers and post-construction economic growth, as shown in a detailed, non-partisan U.S. study. BCC dismissed that study as “American”, later admitting that no similar Canadian research exists.

BCC claimed to be an “evidence based” organization, yet failed to produce any on impacts.  They appear to simply pursue getting jail capacity built. That’s easiest in communities with fragile economies, yet these are the ones where job opportunities, available housing and support services for released and probationed inmates are least available.

BCC indicated that 2,500 inmates are in B.C. provincial facilities. With 756 inmates coming to the Oliver prison, the RDOS (with population less than two per cent of B.C.’s) will be picking up policing and other costs to deal with the effects of hosting 30 per cent of BCC clients.  BCC advises that for every incarcerated inmate, eleven more are in community supervision, yet there are no plans to hire more probation officers. This suggests that cell and supervision capacity should be located where community support capacities are greater.  Moreover, prison locations are more efficient closer to actual centres of demand and in communities with greater capacities.

The Oliver prison location needs re-assessing given:

a) considerable evidence against location in a low-population rural area.

b) secrecy.

c) apparent reliance by Corrections BC on expedience rather than analysis.  Failure to do so puts future economic and social prospects of the South Okanagan at risk.


Denis O’Gorman, Penticton