New $170-million campus-like jail for Nanaimo

A new light-filled, campus-like facility with a special unit for a dozen women is scheduled to be operating by spring 2023 to replace the Nanaimo Correctional Centre at Brannen Lake.

The plan is for a “modern, progressive” centre, offering academic and vocational training, culturally appropriate programs, workshops and greenhouses, and space for indoor and outdoor recreation. Plans call for a 106,347-square-foot facility with 226 cells, up from the current 190.

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The centre serves inmates with sentences of less than two years, most from Vancouver Island. A total of 114 full-time officers work at the jail.

Access to nature, openness and natural landscaping are expected to be part of the design, which will be built on the same site as the existing centre, constructed in 1953 as a reform school. The existing facility will be demolished but will remain in service until the new one is ready.

The province has allocated $157 million, although the cost could reach $170 million, according to a B.C. project document.

“The jail was built in the fifties and corrections is being carried out in an entirely different way,” Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson said Monday, adding the new building “is going to be able to catch up with the modern programs that the jail is delivering.”

The correctional centre contains Guthrie House, a 55-bed therapeutic program for offenders with addictions that combines work, treatment and counselling to help participants get a fresh start.

A key feature will be a new 12-room unit to provide short-term custody for Island women, who typically stay in the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge.

In some cases, women have been forced to stay in police cells. “It’s a real problem on Vancouver Island,” Malcolmson said. “I’ve heard a lot about the impact on women and the breaking up of families that can happen when women have to leave Vancouver Island and their families and their support network.” The goal is to address the disproportionate number of Indigenous women in prison, as well as the impact on families, Malcolmson said.

Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, said in a statement that the new facility will better support staff and enhance the correctional centre’s programs, including the Guthrie therapeutic community and vocational and educational programs delivered in partnership with Vancouver Island University.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog described the current centre as an “aging, out-of-date facility” that needs to be upgraded. “They have done amazing work there, particularly with Guthrie House.” A new facility is “long overdue,” he said.

The centre is located on about 35 acres of a 116-acre property owned by the province. Most of the remaining land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“I think there’s a number of us in the community who thought [the property] might have other uses over the longer haul, but having said that, a modern facility that allows these programs to operate successfully is good for public safety,” Krog said.

Partnerships B.C. is managing the project and is seeking a design-builder.

The replacement project will generate about 650 direct jobs, said Jinny Sims, minister of citizens’ services.

The project team is consulting with local First Nations and with the City of Nanaimo about how to develop the centre and what programs are needed.

A request for qualifications from interested companies was issued Monday, with an Aug. 8 deadline to respond. A request for proposals is expected to be published in September.

The goal is for the new facility to only use as much energy as it can produce.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

Note to readers: This story has been corrected. A previous version included wrong information about the number of cells in the new facility.

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