An MLA had his preconceived notions about prisons put to rest recently when he toured Maple Ridge's jails.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing joined parliamentary secretary for corrections Laurie Throness and Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton as they toured the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre (FRCC), and Alouette Correctional Centre for Women (ACCW) last week.
"I had a preconceived idea of what the outside of a prison should look like from old movies of Alcatraz and memories of the BC Pen when I lived in New Westminster," Bing admitted.
"The only real prison I had ever been in was Oakalla prison in Burnaby when, as a university student, I had to go there to interview an inmate."
When the provincial politicians first arrived at FRCC, Bing said that from the outside, with its lightcoloured brick and manicured lawns, it looked like a college campus, not a prison.
"There are no guard towers and no one wore guns - another preconceived notion down the drain," he said.
They learned 40 per cent of the staff at this men's prison were women.
The trio of Liberals went inside and were reminded that this is a jail, but it is not depressing at all, Bing said.
"The inmates are quite happy to talk to you and say 'hello' back as you walk by and say 'hello' to them. Instead of brooding inmates sitting in cells, they were all out busy learning new skills, taking classes, working out in the gym, or employed in the carpentry shops.
"Others were working in the laundry, kitchen, garden, library, or nearly fish hatchery. Their rooms are simple but not horrible. It's more like a college dorm," said Bing.
ACCW looks even more like a campus than the men's with living units connected by paths lined by grass, shrubs, and flowers, said Bing.
At ACCW, they visited the horticulture program where inmates learn skills from a master gardener from Van Dusen Gardens.
This work program at the ACCW teaches the women how to garden and operate a greenhouse where they grow food used in meals served at the prison.
ACCW's master gardener Barbara Collis said she has seen hundreds of women walk into the greenhouse feeling lost and believing they have nothing to offer the world.
"This program gives them a reason to get up each morning. By teaching them skills like how to run a lawn mower, design a garden, and create hanging baskets, our goal is to help the inmates get a job down the road. But we also want them to change their behaviour and their lives," she said.
The tours of FRCC and ACCW allowed the parliamentary secretary of corrections to view frontline BC Corrections processes and practices and to meet with managers and staff.
"This work will continue as I tour more correctional centres throughout the province and conduct regional roundtable consultation sessions to bring together stakeholder groups," said Thorness.
"I am in the information gathering stage at this point, and I'm open to hearing feedback from managers, staff, inmates, community advisory board members, police, and other stakeholders," he added. "Ultimately, my goal is to make recommendations that will enhance safety strategies to protect staff, inmates, and the communities where BC Corrections facilities are located."
/ Attorney General Suzanne Anton, parliamentary secretary of corrections Laurie Throness, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing toured Fraser Regional Correctional Centre recently.;
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