A view of the South Okanagan on a sunny day as you leave the Okanagan Correctional Centre. For the final part in the Okanagan Incorrectional series, available in Fridays paper, we speak to a union boss and an academic about how to improve corrections and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth about the work being done on the B.C. governments part. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

okanagan incorrectional

COLUMN: When we fail inmates, we fail ourselves

Solutions for inmates go far beyond the walls of the Okanagan Correctional Centre

This column is part of our series Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.'s newest jail. Find our seventh and final part online and in the paper Friday. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.
This column is part of our series Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Find our seventh and final part online and in the paper Friday. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.

Inmates aren’t typically the most sympathetic individuals for the general population, but by ensuring inmates are protected and provided for, we all stand to gain.

The fact is, the default setting on issues like this is apathy. One has to consciously turn a dial to try to appreciate the causes of much of the crime filling up the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

That’s particularly true if you have been a victim of property crime, which is a violating experience. I had my introduction to local property crime in October — a locker (with a lock on it) at a local gym was accessed in one way or another and identification, keys and cards stolen from it.

It’s frustrating to be sure, and the thought of someone unknown to me holding onto my identification and keys was unsettling.

That is a problem that needs addressing. But that conversation too often stops there. It’s difficult to move forward from that violation to realize that is only the periphery of a larger tragedy.

Last year, well over 1,400 people were killed by an overdose in B.C., a situation so drastic that it has led the federal government to open the door wider to the once-fringe idea of prescription heroin.

Yet, that conversation stops there, and rarely do the two issues cross paths in the public dialogue in a meaningful way.

The vast majority of comments on stories of grief-stricken families of overdose victims are a sympathetic cry for help from a community at a loss.

But a cognitive dissonance seems to kick in when considering inmates, and eyes glaze over when the conversation turns to those most entrenched in the throes of this crisis.

“People in prison tend to be less educated, have more trauma, are more likely to be poor, more likely to be Aboriginal,” said Alana Abramson, Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology professor.

The issue goes far beyond the walls of the Okanagan Correctional Centre — or B.C. Corrections more broadly, for that matter. Solutions for B.C.’s inmates start long before they land in jail.

“I’m angry that we throw away vulnerable people,” Canadaland Commons co-host Ryan McMahon said in a recent podcast episode about solitary confinement. As he said it, the comedian’s emotions were palpable.

“I’m angry that, instead of responding with kindness and compassion in a country that is supposedly built on those principles, it’s much easier to deal with it in this way than it is to actually look at ourselves as communities and say ‘where are the gaps; how are people falling through these gaps?’”

Those comments rang familiar while working on Okanagan Incorrectional.

Crime is frequently not a product of the whim of bad people, but the result of our failure to provide for society’s most vulnerable, traumatized and poverty-stricken. Individuals for whom drugs have filled a void in their self-esteem, diminished first by trauma or poverty and second by stigma.

But beyond sympathy, there’s still reason to support inmates’ issues.

A jail is already an aggravating place to be, when people are stripped of their right to mobility. When you add violence and health care issues into the mix, and we fail to provide adequate vocational or behavioural programming, someone who may have gone in for simple property crime may leave and commit worse crimes.

“We have the most impoverished and marginalized people being warehoused together, and then not being provided the services that they require to give themselves a fair shake on the outside,” Abramson said.

“It’s a ticking time bomb.”

Report a typo or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

UPDATE: Search for missing Cranbrook woman enters third day

The search for a Cranbrook woman missing in the Jumbo Pass area is entering its third day.

Evacuation Alert rescinded for Corbin area

Leach Creek wildfire 95 per cent guarded, remains estimated at 30 hectares

Search for missing Cranbrook woman ongoing

Louise Baxter missing in Jumbo Pass area since Sunday

Interim GoFundMe payments approved in Humboldt Broncos crash

$50,000 to be given to each of the 13 survivors and each family of the 16 people who died

Ottawa intervenes to get B.C. ball player, 13, to Little League World Series

Before immigration issue was resolved, Dio Gama was out practicing the game he loves Wednesday

Pet goldfish invades small B.C. lake

Pinecrest Lake is located between Whistler and Squamish

Mounties deployed to help B.C. communities affected by wildfires

RCMP officers heading to places particularly within central, northern and southern B.C.

Chinese medicine practitioner in B.C. facing historical sex assault charges

71-year old Kit Wong practiced acupuncture from his home during the time of the assaults

Quebec sets aside $900 million for companies hurt by U.S. tariffs

Premier Philippe Couillard says his government will make $863 million available over five years

B.C. company patents Sasquatch, the country’s first homegrown hops plant

Created by Hops Connect, Sasquatch hops are being grown commercially for the first time in B.C.

Farmers ponder impact of alternatives to pesticides being banned

The nicotine-based pesticides scientists have linked to a rising number of honey bee deaths will be phased out of use in Canada over a three year period starting in 2021.

Most Read