Penticton council disappointed by data on prisoner releases from Okanagan Correctional Centre

Lots of room at local prison

Penticton city councillors were hoping for more answers from the province regarding prisoner release data from nearby Okanagan Correctional Centre, which is currently operating at low capacity.

Coun. Helena Konanz made a motion in late 2022 for a "fact-finding mission," asking the province for the "number of individuals in custody who have been released in the last 12 months from the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) [near] Oliver and dropped off in Penticton, as well as other relevant information."

The data was received last week, following a touring visit at the facility in January which many on council attended.

The report stated most prisoners are returned to the communities they call home regardless of the court they were processed through. Other reasons for transport either into or out of the Penticton court system's area of jurisdiction included access to treatment centres, access to housing, reporting conditions or federal sentences.

But some on council were concerned by the lack of detail in the report, which is publicly available online here.

“I am not impressed with the level of disclosure that we received. I have gone through it and in less than half the data points were we given a reason for community change [for release]. There's no explanation as to why sometimes it was explained and sometimes it wasn’t,” Boultbee said.

"One of the reasons that came up with some consistency in the data was reporting conditions in Penticton. I would like an explanation on who is setting these reporting conditions. Who's monitoring them, and exactly why [released prisoners] have reporting conditions in Penticton."

Coun. Helena Konanz was concerned that the data showed more intake into the prison than releases, noting that only one person was released to Summerland in all of 2022, and zero to Princeton, as examples.

Coun. Isaac Gilbert noted that, during the tour of the facility, it had been explained why intake and release numbers don't always match up, and challenged the idea that prisoners are asking to be transported to Penticton to exploit local services.

"It's not a one-for-one. When people go into prison, they're going to serve different lengths of time," Gilbert said.

"One of the messages that was very clearly stated by the deputy wardens when we went down there to visit for the tour was that when people are being released, they don't want to go to another city that they're not from. They want to go home. They want to be in their community, with their family and with the services that they need there."

Gilbert also noted that during the facility tour, council was told OCC is severely understaffed to the point of needing to close wings of the prison.

Coun. Ryan Graham said he had asked for details about prisoner capacity, and claimed he was told that as of the time of the tour in January, OCC had 167 inmates, compared to a pre-pandemic high of 342 and a "comfortable" total capacity of 800.

Graham found that disturbing, given the rising crime problems in the region.

“We have to get serious … This pendulum door, we need to close it,” Graham said.

“Our judges really need to start supporting this community, because ... we've got a facility 35 minutes down the street and in my humble opinion, it's an embarrassment that we can't use that to its potential.”

An open invitation from council still stands to have OCC's warden speak and answer questions at an upcoming meeting.

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