It was while touring federal prisons that Chief Clarence Louie was inspired to seek change in the corrections system.
That vision helped the Osoyoos Indian Band proposal be chosen as the preferred location to build a $200 million Okanagan Correctional Centre.
“Ever since that tour, I thought what can we do? What can the Osoyoos Indian Band do? What can we do to help in the process of making this country better and where the Aboriginal people can participate in meaningful ways in the correction system,” said Louie. “Aboriginal people are over-represented in the corrections system and we would hope that this project, being the first of its kind, being on an Indian reserve, that we can work out and change the statistics of Aboriginal incarceration in this country.”
Premier Christy Clark announced on Monday the Senkulmen Enterprise Park, located seven kilometres north of Oliver, is the site chosen for the correctional centre that will consist of 360 secure cells in 10 living units. This is the first partnership of its kind between B.C. Corrections and a First Nation. Louie said the project will bring the OIB land lease revenues, taxation revenue and the spinoff benefits of construction, which will bring hundreds of jobs that will benefit the entire South Okanagan.
Louie sees an opportunity to having First Nations people actively involved in aboriginal healing and wellness programs in the facility. He said they are also working with Okanagan College to bring innovative ideas in dealing with rehabilitation of all offenders.
“Certainly the team was very impressed by the proposal that said this isn’t just about incarcerating people, but how can we do that differently, particularly since Aboriginal people are over-represented,” said Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond.
Key considerations in the selection of Senkulmen Enterprise Park included project costs, zoning, environmental impacts, accessibility to major transportation routes and the projected completion date. Already the site is serviced with $10 million of infrastructure put into the ground.
Bond said the next step is to immediately begin work on the business plan so it can be presented to the finance minister, which is expected to happen within six months.
“There is the potential that completion of the project may move slightly into early 2016, but our goal is to get this moving. We recognize the pressures on the system and the importance of this project,” said Bond.
Once the centre is built, it will double the corrections capacity for B.C.’s Interior. Clark said this will save on transportation and staffing costs. It will also provide the equivalent of 240 permanent full-time jobs and another 1,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction.
“One of the most important things that we need to do in this part of the Okanagan in order to keep it sustainable, in order to keep schools thriving and open and keep the community lively is to attract new young families to the community. This proposal, and the creation of so many jobs, will do just that,” said Clark.
The premier said she wasn’t surprised by the amount of communities vying for the facility, as it not only contributes to community safety but offers economic spinoffs and job creation.
Summerland, Penticton, the Penticton Indian Band and Lumby all had submitted bids — a total of 13 sites. The City of Penticton opted out after a public poll showed a lack of support for the correctional facility to be within the city limits.
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said he has not heard of any backlash against a correctional facility being built in his region. He said the community is one of the most affordable places to live in the Okanagan and has a new residential development with homes starting at $164,000.
“It just makes such economic sense to bring long-term, stable jobs for young people in our community and the broader community,” said Hovanes. “This is just huge news for our community.”
The premier promised to keep governance open and transparent to ensure the public knows what is happening at the facility as the project moves along.
She said it will be an important component that citizens are giving feedback and government can act on it where it is important to do so.