” Prison Town, USA ” ? …How about ” Prison Town, Lumby, BC.”
” What happens when a struggling rural community tries to revive its economy by inviting prisons in? “
This is the question that prompted two American film-makers to document the unintended consequences of building a prison in a small, rural community that was the post-card picture of bucolic life under majestic mountain peaks.
It also happens to be a burning question for many residents of the Lumby area whose mayor and former councillor, Kevin Acton, has been actively lobbying the provincial government for years to bring a prison to town,despite growing protest.
Today is the advance polling for a community referendum for or against a correctional facility in the Village of Lumby( pop.1681) that takes place April 30th . The once united community has become harshly divided as those for the prison balk against those who are against – pitting neighbours against neighbours to a near breaking point.
My attention was piqued a few weeks ago after Global BC ran a story about the situation, and Mayor Acton was interviewed on camera. I can’t quote put my finger on what it was about Mayor Kevin Acton that made me go ” Hmmmm…”, but it was enough to get me looking into where this all started and what happened along the way.
A little history to get you up to speed. Correction facilities in the province have been overcrowded for years, increasing risk to both corrections staff and prisoners alike. The BCGEU has called for a new facility in the Okanogan in particular, because the Kamloops facility is holding nearly double the prisoners it was intended to house.
In 2008, the BC government abruptly cancelled a news conference where it was expected to announce a new facility in Kelowna. According to the BCGEU, the government even owns enough land already in Winfield, but no further announcements were made.
In April of last year, then Deputy Minister David Morhart wrote a letter to the BCGEU stating the following:
“We continue to recognize the long term need for additional capacity in the Central Interior and continue to consider the general Okanagan areas as the most appropriate location to meet the growing demand…. there has been no recent planning on an Okanagan facility, nor has funding approval been secured.”
Shortly thereafter, on May 17th, 2010, Village of Lumby Council issued a press release stating they were approaching the provincial government to consider locating a new correctional facility in Lumby, and they wanted to know what residents thought.
The release indicated some preliminary research meetings had taken place between councillors and corrections representatives, as well as politicians of provincial and federal levels, but in my opinion, the release is carefully worded to give the impression the entire idea was in the very first stages of conception.
Time for some research, which did not fail to immediately give an alternate view of what had gone on behind closed doors with council and the mayor. Lucky for me, the mayor seems to love the media and will talk incessantly when the opportunity presents itself.
What the 2010 press release failed to mention – and what would not come out later that year- is that Mayor Acton had already gone to former Solicitor General Kash Heed in September of 2009, shortly after being elected mayor, and pushed him to give the prison to Lumby then.
Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton is as surprised as Shepherd by the Liberal government‘s lack of decisiveness.
“I went down and saw (then-solicitor general) Kash Heed a couple of Septembers ago. His words after the meeting were, ‘If Lumby wants it, Lumby is going to get it.‘”
However, Heed then resigned – twice.
While Acton was waiting to see a new solicitor general, he had a chat with Premier Gordon Campbell, who was impressed with Lumby‘s attempts to get the jail.
“He got a bit of a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘We should be shopping this around; this is good for the community.‘”
Last fall, Acton cornered another solicitor general, Mike de Jong, at the Union of B.C. Municipalities‘ annual meeting.
“He said, ‘If you want it, get the community behind it, promote it and let the province know you want it.‘ He was going to send his controller for new corrections construction to Lumby Nov. 15, but the premier changed his ministers, and then Coleman put the brakes on everything and sent that letter out.
Hmmm. Kind of makes the question of public response look like a bit of a sham to my eyes. A bit more research clearly indicates that there was no mention of a prison in Acton’s campaign for mayor, nor was it ever brought up as an election issue as many residents feel it should have been.
Had Acton been honest about council’s push for a prison during his campaign, he might have mentioned that the Village of Lumby had actually first hosted discussions about a correctional facility as early as 2008,as per the mayor’s own letter, and again when a special resolution was passed at an in-camera meeting in July of 2009. That resolution was not made public until May of 2010, when it was moved from in-camera to an open resolution, at which time the public would have been privy to this information via the minutes of the meeting.
In his letter, Mayor Acton denied any prison discussions before the last election and justified that by referring to a resolution created in-camera and brought to a public meeting in May 2010. Only one set of May 2010 Minutes were available online, surprisingly those minutes contained the resolution mentioned above, which revealed the date of that in-camera meeting – July 13th 2009.
That date proves false his assertion that no discussions took place and very damning is that the July 13th 2009 date in the resolution was removed from the Mayor’s letter :
If you can’t follow my logic here are some facts to check out: The following is the resolution from the May 17th 2010 Minutes – note the date “July 13th, 2009″:
The following is from Mayor Acton’s letter to Mr. Fisher – where the “July 13th 2009″ secret prison resolution meeting date is redacted:
It get’s better. Former Lumby Mayor, Joanne Kineshanko even wrote to the paper with her concerns, saying “council has predetermined that a prison is going ahead”.
“Kineshanko is convinced council has predetermined that a prison is going ahead and as a result, it’s unwilling to consider what she calls legitimate concerns.
“They have only looked at a prison because they see monetary benefit from government grants-in-lieu of taxes,” she said.
“They don’t appear to be willing to do any homework on the social and economic impacts from a facility. Council has decided this was a good thing for the community and they haven’t listened to the fact that a great number of people have concerns.”
Lumby’s current mayor denies allegations that council has pre-determined there will be a correctional facility.“It was just an idea we came up with and people were interested and we looked at it more,” said Kevin Acton.“I don’t know how we could be any more transparent. There have been no secret meetings.” Acton also denies council has been manipulated to lobby for a prison.“It was council and the mayor’s idea to pursue information,” he said
There have a variety of allegations and incidents that might make an impartial outsider agree with the former mayor, least of which is the special resolution passed by those three counsellors in July of 2009.
Why would three Councillors create a controversial resolution that conflicts with the OCP when they knew that within a month they would have a Mayor and full roster of councillors to debate the matter? How can we believe that three councillors on their own without a Mayor would just suddenly come up with a resolution to get a prison in Lumby without any previous discussion? Was it to circumvent the possibility that one other person was on the election ballot and that Kevin Acton may not be the Mayor in four weeks? Was it done so that Kevin Acton could say in future that he knew nothing of the prison resolution when he ran for office? Those questions are concerning – as are the allegations councillors attended the local senior citizens home telling them their taxes would go up if they didn’t vote for the prison. Or that one councillor chased a resident down the street into a village shop in front of others, yelling at him for opposing the prison. Or that councillors and mayor appear to be mocking residents attending a council meeting prior to the meeting start, caught on video . ( parts 1,2 and 3 of the Feb.7th, pre-meeting banter)
Residents have good reason to be concerned about why this mayor and council are adamant on ramming this prison through, despite the referendum to come. There is a big difference in placing a correctional facility in a large town or city over a small, rural village.
As the documentary I opened this post about indicates, there may very well be some short term advantages to building a prison ( local construction work, supplies, etc) but research on american facilities built in rural areas indicates there are no long term benefits, and in fact, there are many negative impacts on the small communities unfortunate enough to have such a facility built nearby. Here I refer to a very well-written, factual post I came across, which contains a leak to the research mentioned above.
Realistically, it takes analysis based on empirical evidence to really get some people off the fence on issues like this. Lots of studies have been done on the effects of prisons in large urban communities. Data on the effects in small rural towns has just recently been available as most prisons in rural areas were built since 1985 with the promise of great returns for the rural host community.
Recent studies have shown that prisons typically do not help small communities. These studies by scholars and researchers such as Ryan S. King, Marc Mauer, Tracy Huling, Terry Besser, Dexter Whitfield and many more, have repeatedly come to the same conclusions:
– Few prison staff reside locally, they do not reside in the prison town or county thus reducing any positive impact on the local economy. Local Residents are often ineligible for employment due to union requirements or lack of necessary skills.
– The effect of prisons on rural communities in National studies and research projects reveal that the effect on local economies was significantly less than that claimed, and in most cases had negative impacts.
– The location of prisons in rural areas has also led to environmental issues caused by pressure on water and wastewater infrastructure, thus resulting in no tax relief for the local residents and a myriad of other issues for our children to deal with.
– Stigmatism, reduced attractiveness to future business and the failure of prisons to generate linkages into the local economy further minimizes the possibility for positive impacts .
– In addition, small, rural “prison towns” experience less growth than non-prison towns and have a greater increase in unemployment, poverty, and percent minorities. This also results in a general decrease in property values in the area as there is not the expected increase in housing demand experienced by major urban centres that house prisons.
Terry Besser, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, has studied the economic impact of prisons on rural towns.
“Unfortunately my research showed that there not benefits,” she said, “and there were negative consequences.”
As quoted from Dexter Whitfield (Economic Impact of Prisons in Rural Areas – A Review of the Issues):
“It was widely believed that prisons had positive effects on local economies with no negative effects on property values, public safety or the quality of life. One study concluded that there was a gap between the perception of the economic benefits and reality … Washington State University undertook a national analysis to examine the impact of new prisons on the pace of growth. For nonmetropolitan counties—the counties in which the majority of prisons have been built and counties that have competed to attract in order to boost local growth – there is no evidence that prisons have provided a boost. Neither established nor newly built prisons made a significant contribution to employment growth in rural counties (Hooks et al, 2004). Among slow-growing counties, the effect of established prisons failed to attain statistical significance in any panel. Among these slow-growing counties, it appears that new prisons do more harm than good.”
Well there are some scary facts. Also worthy of noting:
In comparing this prison to facilities in other areas, one must keep in mind key differences. Drumheller (pop. 7932 with trading area pop. over 40000) is not only 4 times the size of Lumby, but home to the renowned “world’s largest dinosaur museum” which will attract visitors regardless of what goes on in the town. ( Lumby has no such international attraction, although eco-tourism and recreational activities are currently a draw and could be developed further- lack of insight from mayor and council appears to be a big factor in pursuing this aspect as an economic stimulator- LY)
Grand Cache (pop. 4200) is more than double the size of Lumby. Although it is in a beautiful area of the northern Alberta Rockies (and it is very northern), it does not have the appealing climate that entices families and retirees to live there, nor the vast numbers of year round tourists that flood the North Okanagan, all which leads to local services and products being needed, therefore a prison for their community was a reasonable choice for them. Also, note, Grande Cache is 146 km from Grande Prarie and 149 km from Hinton. There is literally nowhere else for prison staff to live and contribute economically unless they choose to commute 2.5 hrs one way to either town. In this scenario, common sense would follow that a prison proposal would be good in a situation like this, as isolated location dictates and increase in local housing demand and consumption of local goods and services. Readers should be aware that the population in Grand Cache dropped from 4624 to 3646 between the time the prison was announced and the time it opened and the population has not completely recovered.
Lumby, from my understanding, has been doing well economically (growing at about 3% per year ) and revenue increased 30% between 2006 and 2009. This is actually quite impressive during a nationwide recessionary period for a town of this size.
The real problem is not a lack of revenue, but excessive municipal spending and no accountability. In the BC Municipal Spending Watch by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Lumby’s Operating Expenditure Growth (Munc. Spending) has increased by 141.5% between 2000 and 2008, in comparison to Enderby at 3.45% and Armstrong at 56.20%. Population and Inflation growth has been about 19.5% in both Lumby and Armstrong, and 14.75% in Enderby. What this means is that there is huge fiscal sustainability problem in Lumby. Lumby’s municipal spending has increased approx. 7.5 times faster than the revenue base even though Lumby has experienced growth. In comparison to other municipalities with populations of 5000 or less in BC Lumby ranks up there in the top 10 with sustainability issues. There may be extenuating circumstances that warrant higher spending increases or the like in communities with declining populations, but, in general, operating spending increases should be in line with population and inflation and should adequately accommodate growth pressures.
Failure to control operating expenditures, which is the real issue, will mean tax and user fee hikes for small business and other taxpayers for many years to come. This is a wake-up call to taxpayers.
It’s time for more accountability from our municipal government regardless of whether a prison going in or not! The key point is that people in favour of the prison believe it will put the town economy back on the right track, but even if it was a positive economic move for our community, a prison will not correct the underlying municipal expenditure issues. The budget has to be resolved first.
I could not have said any of that better, myself.
Advanced polling is taking place today from 8 am to 8 pm, the main referendum takes place April 3oth and may I point out, it is non-binding referendum ? That means that the results are really not much more than an explosive opinion poll, and that mayor and council are not obligated to even follow the direction of the vote. They could even legally choose to ignore them, which speaks volumes about how democracy works in Lumby, on such a contentious issue as this one.
I even have a sneaking suspicion this facility is going to go ahead regardless of what the results of the referendum are, simply because of what Mayor Acton told a reporter in an interview a couple of weeks ago:
Lumby’s mayor says his council hasn’t decided what level of support in the upcoming referendum, would be enough to pursue the idea for a prison.
Lumby and Area D residents go to the polls April 30th, and mayor Kevin Acton (pictured) says further action is not as simple as 50 percent plus one.
Acton tells KISS FM “We’re going to need to consider Area D,we’re going to have to kinda see what kind of support is coming from area D, and they’re just as much a part of the community as Lumby proper is, so, we actually haven’t set any solid number is,that says yes or no we’re going to do this ”
He says it “will come down to the number that we receive that day, and the sense that council gets of support.”
If that doesn’t even make all of this look more like a sham to appease the people, what more do you need? A non-binding referendum with no real thought behind it to give the people even the smallest illusion of good faith on the part of mayor and council.
It is not for me to tell residents of Lumby and Area D what to mark on their ballot box, and some may wonder why I did this post considering I live down here in Surrey and the facility has no bearing on my life.
To answer that you would have to read this post, and read a response I received from a reader, who told me:
“You asked: Who will speak for us when the government runs over us? Takes our home and our community? Our business and our schools? The answer seems to require that we speak for each other and ourselves with each other and ourselves – through the Internet…
This is a new age of activism – I love what you do – what I do – what all of us are doing to save the small scraps of democracy that still exist in this tarred and blasted country… thank you. “
Giddyup. Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth. I’m here to make sure the truth gets told.
( I welcome all residents of Lumby to comment here in the comments section, so long as the comments are civil and on topic )