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B.C.’s biggest jail officially open

The warden of the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) was handed the keys to the $200-million facility on Friday during the grand opening ceremony.

The OCC is the biggest provincial correctional centre in B.C. and the first in the country to be built through a public-private partnership on First Nations land.

It will add 300 jobs in the south Okanagan.

Friday was also the kick off of public tours. It’s the first time that the public has the opportunity to get an up close look at a provincial jail in B.C.

“It’s not very often that the public has a chance to see inside these facilities. Once you’ve got prisoners in there, it’s out of bounds,” minister of public safety and solicitor general Mike Morris said.

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The rare opportunity to see inside the first corrections facility to open in B.C. since 2001 has generated a lot of interest.

“We have a great opportunity here to dispel a lot of myths. People probably have their own vision for what a prison looks like perhaps based on movies they’ve seen on TV so we want to show them the real deal,” Morris said.

Some inmates have access to a courtyard, common area and exercise room.

The jail cells are meant for one inmate, but bunk beds offer the opportunity to house two if needed.

Most of the 378 cells are equipped with a TV, which is paid for by the inmates themselves through a benefit fund.

There’s also been heavy investment in ensuring the facility is secure.

“There’s well over 1,500 cameras in the facility, so the technology for the door operation and the security systems are state of the art,” the facility’s warden Steve DiCastri said.

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About 35 per cent of all cells in the province currently hold two inmates. That means the OCC will help provide relief to crowded correction centres elsewhere in B.C.

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“It greatly expands our inmate capacity in B.C.’s interior and provides much-needed capacity for the rest of the provincial correctional system,” Stephanie Macpherson with B.C. Corrections said.

The OCC is expected to become operational by January. Roughly 140 prisoners will move in.

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