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

Kelowna firefighters douse blaze in hedges

The cause of the fire on Renfrew Road is under investigation.

Kayaker still missing as COSAR continues aerial searches

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

Kelowna Springtime Regatta draws more than 50 sailboats

Sailors treated to windy, excellent long weekend conditions on Okanagan Lake

Crews responding to car crash in West Kelowna

A collision has been reported at the intersection of Carrington Road and Butt Road.

Get those flowers competition ready

Gardeners will come together June 29, for the 22nd Juried Flower Show

Weather holds up for Rutland May Days

60th annual May Day midway, market and entertainment saw hundreds of attendees

Update: Plan to see more smoke from South Okanagan wildfire

Richter Creek wildfire, 12 kilometres west of Osoyoos, is an estimated 400 hectares

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

South Okanagan runners take top spots in Peach City RunFest

Both the top male and female half-marathon winners were from Penticton

Former Greyhound Canada employees gather in Okanagan to say a final farewell

“Greyhound may take our jobs but they will never take our friendships,” says former bus driver

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Okanagan tattoo fundraiser draws tons of support

Lineup around the block in Vernon for start of Five Fathoms Tattoo event for Children’s Hospital

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

Most Read