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The Pros and Cons of Using Prison Labor

April 20, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

On a warm afternoon, two white swans sunbathe on a mound of grey rocks as a nearby waterfall quietly flows into a pond below.

A loon quickly skims along the water’s surface, gently dipping its webbed feet before taking off for flight.

It’s a tranquil scene at the British Columbia Wildlife Park near Kamloops that is in far contrast to the lives of the people who have made this perfect slice of nature possible., according to bclocalnews.com

The pond, the waterfall and a custom-made shed a few feet away where the swans will spend the winter were all made by the hands of local prisoners.

Inmates from the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre have been lending their hands and bodies to a number of projects around the park for nearly a year.

Inmates have helped build a 1,000-foot fence along the back of the park, separating bears from people, and they are now building picnic tables in the RV park next door.

Once or twice a week, the inmates show arrive at the park to do their work — all on a volunteer basis.

“It’s just a dream without their help,” said Glenn Grant, general manager of B.C. Wildlife Park.

He said the park couldn’t possibly afford to pay for all the upgrades, calling the relationship with the KRCC a “win-win.”

Inmates from the provincial jail used to pick up garbage along the side of the highway for Argo Road Maintenance, but the program was trashed over liability issues. The park decided to take on the program in April 2009.

For security reasons, the park is only notified in the morning that it will have use of the prisoners that day.

The inmates are accompanied by one guard for a smaller group and two guards for larger group. A park staff member is also assigned to work with the inmates, all of whom are chosen by KRCC officials.

“We’re extremely happy,” Grant said of the partnership.

Not only does the park benefit, but he believes the inmates learn life skills that will eventually help them be productive members in the community.

“They’re happy to be here, they’re happy to have an avenue where they can do something positive,” he said.

Not Everyone Happy

However, not everyone is pleased with the arrangement.

Jean Leavitt and her husband moved into the Kamloops RV Park, which is run by the Wildlife Park and owned by the city, at the beginning of April.

The Leavitts were shocked to see the men in red jumpsuits walking around their temporary home.

She’s angry they weren’t told of the arrangement between the park and KRCC.

Leavitt, who spends six months in Kelowna during the fall and winters, but moves back to Kamloops for the summers, chose the park this year to avoid tree planters.

She said the tree planters ran wild at the RV park last year, but was assured by management they wouldn’t be returning.

Leavitt said she wouldn’t have chosen the park had she known KRCC inmates would be nearby — and she believes her family is at risk.

She brought her complaints to the park’s management.

“I’m not going to bring my grandchildren out here and say they’re harmless,” she said.

“There’s a reason why they’re in prison.”

The inmates are in the RV park to help build picnic tables because there is no space to do the work inside the wildlife park.

By not informing her or the public, Leavitt said the park is being “deceptive and dishonest.”

Officials with the wildlife park noted Leavitt’s concerns and acknowledge the inmates had been in a place they weren’t supposed to be.

Grant said the park is in the process of setting up a designated lunch spot so a similar incident won’t happen again.

The park said it would be unfortunate if one small incident put a stop the successful partnership.

Regardless, Leavitt said she’s going straight to the city if the park does not put an end to the inmate program — and she doesn’t care if she has to look like the “bad guy” to do it.

But her complaints could end up falling on deaf ears.

Councilor Pat Wallace said she supports the program and feels the inmates are doing good work.

Like Grant, Wallace believes the city and the prison get a mutual benefit from the relationship.

And Wallace isn’t concerned the city’s image may suffer as a result, nor is she worried about the safety of those at the RV park.

She said society often views an inmate as a bad person, not as a person who made a mistake.

“I wouldn’t be worried if I were out there in an RV for the summer,” Wallace said.

As for informing the public, Wallace suggested the inmates also deserve privacy.

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