What kind of prison does $67 million buy you?
This question has been on the minds of government-watchers since Justice Minister Marian Horne disclosed last week the cost of replacing the existing Whitehorse Correctional Centre with a new prison.
Here are some answers, included with preliminary drawings released by the Justice Department on Monday.
The new building will have more than three times as much usable floor space as the existing prison.
Most notably, the jail will be attached to a treatment centre to help inmates struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.
But inmates will also get a lot more space to themselves. To them, the best new feature may well be the door that will separate their individual cells from the rest of the prison, offering greater privacy than is currently available to inmates who are largely crammed together in dormitories.
The new prison also promises greater freedom of movement for inmates, with an exercise yard to be accessible during all unlocked hours, or about half the day.
Inmates are currently only able to use the yard for about an hour a day.
Why provide this space for inmates?
“My experience is that when you expose people to a better environment, they behave better,” said Bob Riches, assistant deputy minister of Justice.
Riches’ experience is considerable. He has worked in the BC prison system for more than 25 years.
Guards also have reasons to look forward to the new prison. Common rooms will be overlooked by one-way windows. “Nobody knows if they’re being watched or not,” said Riches.
And it should become more difficult to smuggle contraband into the new prison. One tried-and-true method of getting banned items into the prison is to lob it over the yard’s fence inside such things as tennis balls.
To prevent this, the new yard will have a wire mesh reaching over it.
The new jail has nearly double the capacity of the existing facility, with the ability to hold 168 inmates in 102 cells. The current prison has 85 beds.
Other features include a large gathering room, an area set aside for First Nation programming, a small workshop, classrooms, and a fully equipped dental suite and nursing station.
The new jail is expected to be 7,443 square metres, compared to the existing facility’s footprint of 2,160 square metres.
By comparison, an earlier prison design developed under the Liberals eight years ago, expected to cost $24.3 million, covered about 6,000 square metres.
That plan was dismissed by Premier Dennis Fentie as little more than a “warehouse.” It was also dismissed as too costly.
Final designs and costs for the new prison won’t be ready until autumn. But this won’t prevent early work from getting underway. The prison’s foundation will be poured this spring.
Adjacent to the new prison will be a transitional women’s living unit, which is currently being built for $1.6 million.
It will hold up to nine lower-security female inmates who are deemed ready to leave prison but not yet able to live independently.
Inmates will learn how to cook and otherwise care for themselves, as well as receive substance-abuse programming.
The building, to be completed by September, will be outside the prison’s security fence and have a separate entrance and driveway.
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