Future plans

Artist's rendering of the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

Penticton man Taylor Mcfadyen had the dubious distinction Monday of being the first person sentenced by a local judge to serve time at the new Okanagan Correctional Centre.

The 27-year-old construction worker was handed a seven-day jail sentence for breaching a probation order, and then whisked away by sheriffs to his temporary home near Oliver.

Monday marked the official opening of the $193-million jail, where Mcfadyen and other inmates are being welcomed using a “phased-in approach.”

“The first to move in will be those from the Okanagan catchment area – that is, those whom the courts would send to BC Corrections with the Okanagan in mind, now that there is a correctional centre there,” the Justice Ministry explained in a statement.

“Over the coming months, the number of inmates will increase as more inmates are sent to the facility by the courts and as transfers from other centres are scheduled as required.”

The jail has 378 regular cells – each with two bunks – divided into 10 different living units, along with 18 cells for females, plus other units for inmates requiring health services or “specialized” management.

“We don’t have a definitive number of the final number of inmates, but we are anticipating that the centre will ultimately house approximately 400 inmates by the time the phased-in approach ends in fall 2017,” the ministry said.

Management, supervisory and administrative staff are all at work this week, while the fourth of five 24-person classes of new correctional officers just completed training. They’ll be put to work as required.

The union that represents B.C. jail guards will be watching closely to make sure OCC is in fact used to relieve overcrowding at other lock-ups as it’s intended to do.

“The biggest thing for us will be to hopefully utilize all of the spaces inside the jail and keep the double-bunking to a minimum and spread out the inmates to keep the inmate-to-office ratio down,” said Dean Purdy, a spokesman for the B.C. Government Employees’ Union.

“The other key will be to keep the living units in the other jails open to keep the officer-inmate ratios down in those other facilities.”

Purdy said overcrowding in B.C. jails has led to an escalation in violence.

Inmate-on-inmate attacks increased by 32 per cent between 2014 and 2015, while inmate-on-guard attacks climbed by 39 per cent over that same timeframe, according to Purdy, who’s still awaiting data for 2016.

“So we’re going to be monitoring OCC and see how it progresses,” he said.

B.C.’s auditor general reported in 2015 that the nine correctional centres in use at the time were operating at 140 per cent of capacity, contributing to “rising tension and the potential for conflicts.” At the time, BC Corrections was operating 2,013 cells.

Work on the Okanagan Correctional Centre, the land under which is leased to the province by the Osoyoos Indian Band, began approximately three years ago.

Construction wrapped up in the fall, leaving time for staff to test the facility before inmates arrived.

The jail will house prisoners awaiting trial or those serving sentences of two years or less.

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