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 Castanet.net.
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: