Prison in the South Okanagan


North Fraser Pretrial Centre (NFPC)

I am starting a prison thread on the Area F site in an attempt to replace the prison-related threads on Dan Albas's Penticton Politics blog.  This is one of the downsides of losing Dan to the pros—he is now less willing to walk around with a stick poking political ant hills. Unfortunately, the prison-related threads on Dan's blog were the some of the best debate and commentary I have seen on the issue so far.  Such debate and commentary are critical if we are to make an informed decision about such a complex issue.  There is also an active prison thread on

The starting place for my interest in the prison is straightforward: Area 'F' of the RDOS has several areas (e.g., along the road to Faulder—see the map of large parcels) that might make good prison sites.  These sites have the advantage of being relatively remote yet only a few minutes away from Highway 97 via Summerland.

My question is: would such a rural prison provide the benefits of the prison (to nearby Summerland and perhaps even Penticton) without the negative aspects of a prison within the boundaries of a municipality?  I don't know the answer to this question; that is why I am asking.

The comment feature below can be used to weigh-in.  As on Dan's blog, I require registration in order to prevent spam from consuming the site.

The idea of a correctional facility (hereafter: prison) in the South Okanagan has some obvious positives and negatives.  The main positive is that prisons employ many people and the region could use some economic and demographic diversification.  Most people assume that the economy of the South Okanagan is based on tourism and agriculture but this is not even close to being the case.  Census data clearly shows that the largest source of income in the region is overwhelmingly pensions and investments. The South Okanagan is increasingly one large retirement community with a supporting cast that includes healthcare workers, retailers, financial service providers, and so on.

The main negative is that a prison is seen to threaten the very livability that attracted people here in the first place. Why would we permit a LULU (locally unwanted land use) in one of the most desirable regions in Canada?  Of course there are other negatives, including much broader objections to the whole notion that prisons are an appropriate response to crime and criminality.  This is clearly an interesting issue, but I think it is fair to say that it is not entirely relevant to the question before us.  After all, the province is likely to build this prison whether we want it or not.

Both the positive and negative sides of the prison debate are making very strong empirical claims.  I make most of my living as a professional social scientist, so I am very interested in such claims.  For example, when someone says (as they often have in the pages of the local newspaper) that prison towns experience higher crime than non-prison towns, I wonder about the basis for the claim.  It is a simple matter to look at crime rates in British Columbia, control for factors that might influence crime, such as size of the host municipality, its location, its level of poverty, and so on, and determine whether the presence of a prison as a statistically significant relationship with the incidence of crime.  Unfortunately, I have talked to colleagues, searched the journal indexes, and chased down many dead-ends on Google but cannot find much evidence one way or the other for the "self-evident" fact that prisons cause crime.  Thus, although prisons may or may not lead to higher levels of crime in host communities, people who vehemently assert that they know it is true (or not true) but have no data to back them up are mostly just blowing smoke.  Let's face it: A bunch of made-up facts do not bring us any closer to resolving this issue.

Of course careful analysis does exist.  For example, Justin Piché's blog provides a well-supported summary of the anti-prison view. Also, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank published a comprehensive review of the rural prison issue. Both these summaries cast some doubt on the "economic salvation" rationale for prisons (more on this in a later posting).  However, they also conclude that many of the negatives associated with rural prisons are overstated.  From the Minn Fed paper:

“Emotions run hot in prison debates as fragile communities weigh their fears of change and crime against their desperation for economic survival. But according to Thomas G. Johnson, an economist and professor of public affairs at the University of Missouri, ‘both the proponents [of prisons] and those against them have got it all wrong.

[...] 'The proponents claim that this is going to solve all the community's problems, and the fact is that these are not very good economic development strategies,' he said. [...] At the same time, many fears about prisons prove to be unfounded or overstated, according to Johnson and other prison experts. 'Those against prisons worry about crime rates, land values, about changing the nature of their community,' said Johnson. 'I don't think there's ever been any evidence of that and I've looked for it.'”





The city of Penticton is maintaining a page with information about the proposed prison. Of special note is the nifty map showing Summerland and Penticton's proposed locations. Some Area 'F' locations have also been submitted to the province, but we do not have the resources to follow-up and lobby in the same way as the municipalities.  As noted previously, all this is quite preliminary.  By submitting candidates, no local government is necessarily agreeing to host a prison.

Also, there is the no Penticton/RDOS prison blog.

I recently attended a rally at city hall.  Mayor, Chairman Ashton stated his preference for a site was the Indian land next to the research station. I took this to mean the site next to the gun club.  If this is the case, that is a five minute walk to Sage Mesa, the first residential area any fleeing prisoner would encounter.  No one I’ve spoken to wants any prison in this area.  Would you ask Chairman Ashton why he did not consult Area F residents about  this if this location is correct?  He seems only to support Regional District issues if it is for the benefit of the city of Penticton, eg. West Bench Water.  Do any of the Directors consider his position to be a conflict of interest? I do not support a prison anywhere in either the city of Penticton or Area F. 

My understanding is that the City of Penticton favors its formally-proposed sites (Campbell Mountain, Cantex, etc.).  However, keep in mind that one of the restrictions imposed by the province is that the potential prison sites be serviced with water, sewer, utilities, and so on.  This servicing requirement makes little sense to me because it forces local governments to propose sites that are desirable and already populated (we do not, as a rule, run sewer services to undesirable spots in the middle of nowhere). Unfortunately, an undesirable spot in the middle of nowhere is likely the best option for a prison in the Okanagan.

As for PIB lands, they will run up against the same issue: lack of services.  Now if the province is willing to pay to run services to the beautiful benches on PIB land between Sage Mesa and Summerland, I think they should also be willing to pay to run services to some remote area well off the main valley.  That is, if they are willing to service PIB lands, a whole bunch of new rural options are on the table--many of which have not been looked at due to the servicing requirement.

The issue here is: Who bears the cost of a provincial prison? If the prison is placed in a populated area of the Okanagan, it seems possible to me that a couple of hundred residents of that neighborhood will incur some tangible and intangible costs—I certainly do not want a prison in my back yard.  If the prison is placed in the middle of nowhere, the province (that is, the taxpayers of British Columbia) will incur the considerable infrastructure costs of servicing the remote location.  To me, it makes sense that all British Columbians pay for the costs of our prison systems, not just an unlucky few who happen to live on the outskirts of a serviced area.

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