Seen from McIntyre Bluffs one February night, the Okanagan Correctional Centre is flooded with light, next to the darkness of empty land and the starlike twinkle of Oliver’s streetlights. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

Okanagan Incorrectional

Okanagan Incorrectional: B.C.’s promising, new jail grinds into motion

PART ONE: Violence, drugs and health-care issues at the Okanagan Correctional Centre

This is part one in our new series, Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Watch for part two next Friday.

B.C.’s newest jail, though it came with promises of renewed inmate relations and a stacked list of programming, has been no stranger to trouble.

From assaults on inmates and staff and complaints of excessive force from staff, inappropriate use of solitary confinement, lengthy waits for doctor visits and at least six lawsuits being filed against the Okanagan Correctional Centre, the high-security jail saw its share of challenges in its first 14 months of operation.

From atop McIntyre Bluff at night, the flood of light that surrounds the jail is in stark contrast with the twinkle of Oliver’s streetlights and the darkness that separates the two.

Related: Another inmate files lawsuit against Okanagan Correctional Centre

Related: Keys handed over for Okanagan Correctional Centre

But the building doesn’t immediately stand out after you turn off Highway 97 onto Enterprise Way, entering the sparsely populated but burgeoning industrial park of the Osoyoos Indian Band.

And the building isn’t particularly conspicuous. You aren’t confronted with the concrete block of heavily patrolled watchtowers you see in the movies.

The cleanly boxed design of the building’s facade has all the makings of an institution — on approach, you might mistake it for an airport. The neutral colouring of a library surrounds the public entrance, and a wall of windows hovers over the area, displaying several offices.

Story continues below…

On the west side of the building, the characteristics of a public space give way to the hallmarks of a jail —  concrete, chainlink and barbed wire.
(Dustin Godfrey/Western News)
On the west side of the building, the characteristics of a public space give way to the hallmarks of a jail — concrete, chainlink and barbed wire.

(Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

A metal detector at the public entrance blends into its surroundings, and the lobby, up a flight of stairs, is guarded only by pleasant receptionists with pens and check-in forms, who guide visitors to the labyrinth of micro-cubicles in the public visitation area.

Each cubicle — despite the lack of activity in the building one Friday afternoon in January, there are a couple dozen of them — has a screen with a telephone handset.

The screen shows an off-white brick wall in a room awaiting the arrival of an inmate. The video feed is coming from the other half of the facility, a cold image next to the sleek lobby.

Related: Okanagan Correctional Centre welcoming new inmates

Related: Second lawsuit filed against jail in a week

To the west of the public entrance, all the appearances of a public facility give way to the hallmarks of a jail — a slab of concrete with a heavy metal gate, chain link fence and barbed wire.

The high-security, 378-cell facility came with a $212.8 million capital price tag as of Oct. 23, 2017, according to a government summary report.

During a tour of the Okanagan Correctional Centre, relatively new Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth stands next to a 'Now Hiring' banner at the jail before a media scrum.
(Dustin Godfrey/Western News)
During a tour of the Okanagan Correctional Centre, relatively new Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth stands next to a ‘Now Hiring’ banner at the jail before a media scrum.

(Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

The majority of that comes from a $192.9-million Partnership B.C. agreement, which was finalized in March 2014 with Plenary Justice. The group consists of four companies including project lead Plenary Group, designers DGBK Architects, PCL Constructors Westcoast and, for facility management, Honeywell Ltd.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he still believes in the promises of better inmate relations and the effectiveness of the programming, as B.C. Corrections continues to develop the jail, considered to be in full operations by October last year after months of phasing in inmates and staff.

Related: Prison an ‘economic boon’ to the South Okanagan

Related: Proposal process starts for Okanagan prison

And, indeed, the economic spin-offs have been realized, according to Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes, who said the community has seen, among other things, an uptick in school enrolments since the jail’s opening.

But the first year of B.C.’s newest provincial jail, which houses transitory inmates and those serving sentences of less than two years, has been fraught with issues. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth called it growing pains, before correcting himself.

“Not growing pains, but there’s still issues surrounding the fact that it’s a new facility, and you want to get everything running, and there’s still new staff that needs to be hired,” Farnworth said in an interview following a media availability in February.

And for most of those with experience with the jail, whether professional or personal, that appears to have been the source of many of the issues unique to or particularly prevalent in OCC.

Related: Public tours offered of Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver

Related: Inmate suing Okanagan Correctional over alleged assault

Eventually, an inmate appears in the video feed in the jail’s visitation area. Speaking both during a January visit and over numerous phone interviews about his experience at OCC, he is one of several people to speak about the turbulent first year at the jail.

The Western News began investigating Okanagan Correctional Centre with some freedom-of-information requests in October — some of which are still being processed by the B.C. government or being challenged through the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

After months of research, hours of interviews on and off the record and on background, innumerable email exchanges, letters and court files, the Western News presents its series: Okanagan Incorrectional, a deep dive into the first year at B.C.’s newest jail.

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

Avalanche Canada issues special public warning

Very weak layer buried under recent snow a cause for concern

KBRH on watch for bed bugs after two recent cases

Spokesperson Mandy Lowery says there has not been a bed bug sighting at KBRH since Dec. 8

Coffee card donations return at Wait’s News

The program supplied over 200 cards last year

Trafalgar students build home for sanctuary horse

Grade 8 students collaborated on a project with a local farm sanctuary

Nelson won’t restrict parking amnesty to West Kootenay

So far, more than 800 people have responded with amnesty payments

Trudeau to make it harder for future PM to reverse Senate reforms

Of the 105 current senators, 54 are now independents who have banded together in Independent Senators’ Group

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

B.C. VIEWS: Andrew Wilkinson on taxes, ICBC and union changes

Opposition leader sees unpredictable year ahead in 2019

5 tips for self-care, mental wellness this holiday season

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions urging British Columbians to prioritize self care through festive season

Rescued B.C. cat with misshapen legs in need of forever home – with carpet

Mirielle was born with misshapen back legs and after a tough life on the streets, is looking for a forever home.

VIDEO: Craft growers will add to recreational market, cannabis producer says

Two B.C. men say their expertise in running small legal medical grow-ops a benefit to recreational market

World Sikh Organization demands Canada prove Sikh extremism is a threat

Sikh community says this is first time such extremism has been mentioned in federal terror-threat assessment

Risk of catching the flu increasing in B.C. this holiday season: BCCDC

Dr. Danuta Skowronski with the BC Centre for Disease Control says influenza will pick up during the holidays

Boeser has 2 points as Canucks ground Flyers 5-1

WATCH: Vancouver has little trouble with slumping Philly side

Most Read