The recent proposal to court the federal government to have a new penitentiary built near Kimberley after an existing BC pen requires replacement is well-meant but wrong.
OK. Let’s get a something out the way first. The story is about relocating a provincial penitentiary in about 10 years and not about adding another penitentiary in the province. This pen will get relocated when the need arises, so the question is whether or not the area is better off with or without it.
Kimberley could definitely use the cash an industry like this brings, although RDEK Board Chair Rob Gay phrased it more eloquently as, “Federal prisons are economic generators.”
First mentioned by Don McCormick, Kimberley councilor, the idea does have an appeal to it in the numbers of jobs that could come from becoming a federal penitentiary city. An influx of well-paid jobs are definitely welcome here. The problem is that the number of jobs that would go to locals is a lot smaller than at first glance.
The guards and some other staff will be members of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO). Besides getting decent pay for their members, this union will also make sure that existing employees will get first shot at any job here. In that regard, it is also safe to assume that non-unionized workers already employed would also be allowed to relocate. This probably wouldn’t leave many permanent jobs for the locals.
As for those jobs, let’s take a look at what being a correctional officer is like. This is a brutal job. Kevin E. Bedore, a Canadian federal correctional officer, wrote in a well-sourced 2012 article for the UCCO that correctional officers have arguably one of the worst jobs on the planet. He cited research that shows this group has the second highest mortality rate of any occupation, a higher substance abuse rate than the general population and a 39 per cent higher suicide rate than any other occupation. Any other occupation. That’s profound.
The same goes for the building of the penitentiary. Again, chances are that the contractors bidding for this large job will have experience building prisons, putting local contractors at a disadvantage.
Regardless of local jobs though, having a large group of fully employed people moving to the area is definitely good for the economy. Some will rent, some will buy homes and all of them will contribute greatly to the community.
But here is where NIMBY (not in my back yard) comes to play. Kimberley has spent a lot of time and money in the past decade to be identified as a resort destination. Correct or not, there is a stigma attached to federal penitentiaries that will have a chilling effect on tourism.
Kimberley Mayor Ron McCrae is against the penitentiary idea, although it is hoped that he is still keeping the door open to industry.
There is no doubt that Kimberley needs more industry. Council and residents are constantly working towards attracting new business and industry to the city and new suggestions are always coming forward.
This most recent suggestion, is not a fit for the area.
Back to the drawing board.