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

Dogs called heroes in Blind Bay residential blaze

Homeonwers safe but one pet missing, another confirmed dead following fire

Freezing rain, some snow forecasted for Okanagan-Similkameen-Shuswap

Environment Canada forecasting freezing rain and snow for much of the region

Salmon Arm youth eyes national event in meeting with Justin Trudeau

Friendship Day founder Brody Paton shares vision for national event with prime minister

Salmon Arm RCMP arrest man suspected of using stolen credit cards

The man was taken into custody while driving a stolen car

Process limits greenhouse gas escape at Salmon Arm Landfill

Fortis BC uses converted biogas to fuel between 300 and 500 homes

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Former welfare clients still owed money, B.C. Ombudsperson says

Investigation found 2,600 people docked illegally for earning income

Prince George could get province’s second BC Cannabis Store

The first brick-and-mortar government retail location opened in Kamloops on Oct. 17

B.C. chowdery caught up in ‘rat-in-soup’ scandal to close

Crab Park Chowdery will be shutting down Jan. 20

Vancouver councillors unanimously approve motion declaring climate emergency

Vancouver joins cities like Los Angeles and London

Caribou herd disappears from Kootenays after last cow relocated

One cow from the South Selkirk herd and two from the Purcells were moved this week

‘I never said there was no collusion,’ Trump lawyer says

President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he has ‘never said there was no collusion’

Body of Canadian miner found after African kidnapping

Kirk Woodman’s body was discovered 100 kilometres from the site where he worked for Progress Mineral Mining Company in Burkina Faso

Study finds more than half of food produced in Canada wasted

The study released Thursday is the world’s first to measure food waste using data from industry and other sources instead of estimates

Most Read