By JOE FRIES
Special to OsoyoosToday
Inmates at the Okanagan Correctional Centre are paying their debt to society by joining in the fight against flooding in the region.
A group of prisoners from the jail has been employed this week making up sandbags on behalf of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which requested assistance.
“Currently, inmates are filling 250 sandbags a day,” Justice Ministry spokesman Colin Hynes said in a statement Wednesday.
“However, equipment to automate the process will arrive in the next 48 hours and, once inmates are trained in the safe operation of this equipment, it’s expected they’ll be able to fill about 4,000 sandbags a day.”
Their contributions are welcome, said Zoe Kirk, an information officer for the RDOS emergency operations centre in Penticton.
“It’s been great for the inmates to have the ability to help in this situation, and it’s excellent to have the help from them,” said Kirk.
Inmates also built “six-shooters” out of PVC pipe that allow for quick filling of six sandbags at a time.
“They made 30 of those, which we have distributed to fire halls, so that residents who are filling their sandbags have an easier way of doing so,” Kirk added.
Flooding in the South Okanagan has resulted in temporary closures of Highway 97, prompted an evacuation order for 12 homes, evacuation alerts for 37 more, and led to a declaration of a state of local emergency for the entire rural Oliver area.
Mitigation efforts were ratcheted up Wednesday with two new pumps that are moving about 19,000 litres of water per hour from the Lower Sportsmens Bowl Road area into the Okanagan River channel.
While the Okanagan Correctional Centre is within the emergency zone, it’s not at risk of flooding, according to Hynes, who noted inmates have also performed other community services, such as pulling weeds for the Town of Osoyoos, and will likely be doing more.
“Examples of other types of work this crew can be involved in include activities such as maintaining trails, collecting roadside garbage, doing community clean-up, and helping with special projects or events as requested by non-profit organizations,” added Hynes.
“Only low-risk, open-custody inmates are eligible to participate in supervised community work programs outside the centre itself. Considerable planning goes into an inmate’s placement in open custody with risk assessments weighing inmates’ histories and needs.”
Joe Fries writes and edits for the Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and the Herald have an informal agreement to share relevant editorial content.