Inmates at work

Inmates fill sandbags at the Okanagan Correctional Centre near Oliver during the 2018 flood season.

BC Corrections says an average of 64 inmates are released each month from the Okanagan Correctional Centre through a well-established process meant to assist their reintegration into society.

The agency, which oversees provincial jails, detailed the process in a statement Wednesday, a day after Penticton city council unanimously passed a motion calling on BC Corrections to provide detailed statistics about the number of OCC inmates who were released to the streets of Penticton over the past year.

“Prior to an individual’s release from custody, correctional staff work with them to help create a plan for their successful reintegration back into the community. This includes efforts to establish a supportive network of personal supports and community services to help the individual with their transition,” explained the statement, which was attributed to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

“Upon release, most individuals are picked up by friends or family. As well, community resources frequently facilitate transportation upon release. When those options are not possible, taxi vouchers or bus tickets are provided, or the individual may be driven by staff as BC Corrections is required to facilitate transportation back to the individual’s court of origin, which is generally their home community, or to a specific location ordered by the court.”

The statement included release data for a 22-month period from Jan. 2020 through October 2021. Over that span, there were 1,406 inmates released, of which 186 were sent home in taxis.

“While BC Corrections is required to return an individual to their court of origin – often within the region of the correctional centre, BC Corrections has no authority over where an individual chooses to reside, unless a specific location, treatment or court condition is ordered by the court,” the statement noted.

It also referenced an October 2022 announcement from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in regard to the expansion of community transition teams, which consist of social workers, nurses and other health professionals, who help inmates access  supports they need to readjust to life on the outside.

The expansion, which is expected to be complete by the end of November, will see new teams established at five jails, including OCC.

The motion to request release data was put forward by Coun. Helena Konanz, who said questions persist about the jail’s impact on Penticton’s crime rate.

Konanz, whose previous eight years on council covered the period when the jail just north of Oliver was still in the planning phase, said government officials promised then that offenders who completed their sentences would be returned to their home communities, many via Greyhound bus from Penticton

Now, four years after Greyhound ended operations and six years after the jail opened, she wants to ensure those same officials are still living up to their word.

“This is a fact-finding mission,” said Konanz. “I just want to make sure they’re following through with their duty.”