Prison program builds bridges

ETA program develops community connections

Inmates of William Head Institution are regularly brought into the community as part of a program of escorted temporary absence, and one of the program’s beneficiaries maintains it’s an initiative that deserves nothing but praise and positive recognition.

Willy Burrows, the camp ranger at Camp Barnard, the popular year round residential camp, regularly hosts between two and 10 inmates who arrive at the Otter Point operation to help out with tasks that range from welding to woodworking and everything in between.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. The guys get to come and put their skills and energy to work outside the institution and we get the benefit of their work, doing things that we could never afford to hire people to do,”said Burrows.

“The guys were here last Monday helping to stack wood and build some forms we’re making to allow us to move a building. Last year they built a bridge at the camp, and while they did that, they were building bridges back to the community.”

The program is part of the rehabilitation program for the minimum security institution.

“They’re not taking work away from any local businesses, but they are helping the community by giving something back where it otherwise wouldn’t get done,” said Anthony Baldo, assistant warden at William Head.

The men who are part of this program work all over the CRD, including Sooke where they have assisted with work for groups who otherwise couldn’t afford to have the work done. For example, they help pack hampers at the Mustard Seed, and they’ve done demolition work in Sooke for Habitat for Humanity, where they worked to salvage material that was ultimately sold by Habitat as part of their Re-store program.

Baldo explained that more than 96 per cent of the men at William Head will, at some point be released back into the community and that the ETA program offers the men a chance to work in a normal environment and to make connections to the communities in which they may choose to make their home.

Those connections tend to last and provide a positive base for reintegrating into society, said Baldo.

“It’s far more productive and responsible to do this than to hold the inmates until their release date and then just punt them back into society,” said Baldo.

To qualify for the escorted temporary absence, inmates work with their case managers to express their interest in helping the community and learning the rules that will govern their behaviour outside the confines of the institution.

“Most of the men here recognize that they owe a debt to society and that by doing this work, they’re showing that they want to begin to repay that debt. It also gives them a sense of purpose and self worth and helps in the healing process for everyone involved.”

Baldo made a point of sending his thanks to Sooke and to surrounding communities for their cooperation with the program.

“Those connections the men develop, the experiences they have … it gives them hope. And that’s so very important and appreciated. Programs like this are a collaboration that’s only possible with community support and it’s extremely important and makes us more effective successfully integrating rehabilitated individuals to the community.”

William Head is located on on 35 hectares of federal land at the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island, near Metchosin, and houses about 200 inmates deemed to be the lowest possible security risk.

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