Oct. 21 has been tentatively slated as the grand opening of the Okanagan Correctional Centre, and its commanders will be handed the keys on Oct. 1.
“Everything’s on time and on target,” warden Steve DiCastri said in an address about the status of the new prison during a chamber event on Friday morning.
The facility will add about 300 new jobs to the community, he said, with 230-240 permanent and 50-60 contract positions, and the prison has just a dozen positions left unfilled.
“We have one more recruit class to hire in January but we have to see where our numbers land,” he said.
Contract positions will be needed for the healthcare and culinary staff. Chiron Health Services will begin its hiring process in October or November, and kitchen staffers will be recruited in October. New hires are coming to Oliver from across the country, but mostly from the Okanagan corridor and Alberta, and a few from the U.S., DiCastri said, adding that only a very small per centage of applicants declined their offers. After their fall start date, employees will undergo training until mid-January, when inmates begin arriving.
DiCastri noticed that the Okanagan Correctional Centre attracted a more mature workforce than prisons closer to urban centres.
“We have four or five retired RCMP officers, and we’re seeing more of an older population,” he said. “Down in the Lower Mainland I would see mostly 22-35 year olds; here it’s more 35-45 year old’s being hired. We think they’ll probably stay with us longer, and stay in the community longer.”
Late in December or early in January, the prison will launch a program department that gives inmates a chance to be productive members of the community.
“So we’ll see inmates in the community doing volunteer stuff, there will be two crews out in the communities.”
Part of the programming includes greenhouse work. Inmates will have the opportunity to grow vegetables, and the food produced will sustain the prison’s kitchen and leftovers will be donated to the food banks in Oliver and Osoyoos.
“We get out to give back to the community,” DiCastri said. “Our work programs consist of volunteering in old age homes, cleaning sidewalks, horse trails – those kinds of things.”
While working in the Fraser Valley, DiCastri said inmates donated around 600,000 man hours to the community each year, and the new facility will generate about 350,000 man hours of volunteering in the South Okanagan, he figures.
“We do not compete against taking jobs from the city or anyone else.”
Shortly after the grand opening on Oct. 21, tours will be offered to the public in the afternoon, and then throughout the weekend.
“We’re inviting communities and their families to come, and staff will be on hand to take them on a tour through the entire centre.”