B.C.’s newest prison building, a $45-million project alongside the South Alouette River, opens soon in Maple Ridge, even though the province’s prison population is dropping.
“The good news for all of us in B.C. is that the numbers, in terms of incarceration, generally, are declining. We are seeing it trending in the right direction,” Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Tuesday at a ribbon cutting for the secure wing of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.
“What you’re seeing us do is actually add capacity to deal with current challenges.”
Bond was in Maple Ridge for a tour of the state-of-the-art facility, prior to 70 women from the Surrey Pre-Trial Services Centre moving in the middle of this month.
When they arrive, they’ll be see shiny new furniture and TV-equipped cells with double bunks.
Another feature of the cells is a narrow window above each bunk that allows prisoners to look down on to the open- and medium-custody wings of the prison. The hope is that women in the secure wing will see inmates in horticulture or doggie daycare or community work programs and want to progress to reduced security programs.
Each cell has a small plastic table, plastic storage bins, a stainless steel toilet and mirror and a stainless steel-encased TV with remote control.
The cost of TV is provided not by taxpayers, but by the inmate benefit fund, paid for by the prisoners, staff pointed out.
TVs also provide the opportunity to deliver educational programs to help inmates upgrade their qualifications.
The prison is composed of five living pods with about 20 cells surrounding a common area, where tables with chess boards on top are installed.
Corrections officers can monitor the unit from above via high-definition cameras on five large screens. A grated floor allows guards to keep an eye and ear on what’s happening below.
The new building also has four enclosed booths, like an old-fashioned telephone booth, where video screens and cameras are installed, allowing inmates to appear in court, without attending in person, saving staff time.
Inmates will have a range of services, including 24-hour health care, a doctor five times a week, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, mental health screening, dental services, an addictions counsellor, plus volunteer programs.
“So we will have the full gamut of services that the women will need to address the issues they have when they come in,” said warden Dawn Kelly.
One of the biggest challenges is reducing the recidivism rate, Bond added. The institute will focus on ensuring that women are as healthy and as well as they can be, “with the hope that they can turn their lives around.”
All inmates have access to gender-specific programming, such as emotions management for women, relationship skills and substance abuse programming.
According to a Ministry of Justice news release, the new Alouette building is part of a $185-million expansion plan in BC
Corrections’ history, that will increase capacity in B.C. by 340 cells.
Bond didn’t want to speculate on costs that B.C. might face as a result of tougher federal laws, until all the information is in and said the province is better positioned than the rest of the country to deal with any impacts. B.C. lobbied for tougher terms for some offences, she pointed out.
“We are looking at the analysis of Bill C-10.”
Ottawa passed the bill last spring and imposes mandatory jail terms for some sentences and eliminates conditional sentences for some offences and has tougher terms for juveniles.
“Right now, our trends are dropping,” Bond said. “We’re seeing capacity drop within the province in terms of the numbers of inmates we have.”
However, a Ministry of Justice news release says B.C.’s prison population is expected to rise by “1.5 per cent to two per cent a year, for the foreseeable future.”
Bond said there were a few delays in completing the Alouette addition, but it was done on within budget.
A Maple Ridge news freedom of information request earlier this year, asking about the impact of crime bills will have on the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre and Alouette Correction Centre for Women, was sparse on details.
The government released 16 pages of documents, but all figures were deleted, leaving large sections blank. The document mentions that Bill C- 25, The Truth in Sentencing Act, eliminates two-for-one credit, will increase provincial custody by 57 per cent.
However, Ontario estimates the changes will cost that province $1 billion, while Quebec pegs its cost at $600 million.
A report, released in February by federal budget watchdog Kevin Page, estimates that scrapping house arrest could come with an annual nationwide price tag of $145 million, shared mainly by the provinces.
Other expansions to B.C.’s prison system:
• 20-cell expansion for women, in December 2010, at Prince George Regional Correctional Centre;
• 216-cell expansion to the Surrey Pretrial Centre, with completion late next year;
• planned 360-cell Okanagan correctional centre.