The grounds of Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford show some of the shared “living units” in which inmates are housed. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

VIDEO: Tour offers inside look at Fraser Valley Institution for Women

Abbotsford prison provides rare opportunity for media visit

A rare opportunity to see the inside of a local prison was extended last Thursday, when the Fraser Valley Institution (FVI) for Women in Abbotsford opened for a media tour.

Assistant warden Chris Szafron said the tour was conducted so that the public, through the eyes of the media, can get a better look at a system that is sometimes misunderstood.

FVI is located on King Road on a large federal reserve that it shares with Matsqui and Pacific institutions. It is one of six women’s prisons in Canada and the only one in B.C.

The facility can house up to 120 women in its four units – minimum, medium and maximum security and mental health – with an emphasis on preparing them for their future.

“Our focus is on preparing women for reintegration into society because almost all offenders do, in fact, get released back into the community, so we do our best to prepare them for that challenge,” Szafron said.

FVI offers numerous educational and employment programs, and the tour included close-up looks at a couple of them, including a kennel program that is operated in partnership with the Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS).

Dogs can be boarded at the site, where they are free to romp and play in fenced areas, while they are cared for by participating inmates.

The women in the program learn how to handle, train and groom dogs, and can obtain certificates in up to five different areas.

Instructor Alicia Santella of LAPS said the program provides women with many transferrable skills, such as compassion, discipline and working well with others.

“It’s a really great way for women to practise their worth ethics,” she said.

Inmate Ellen Dennett, who has been incarcerated for 6.5 years – the last five at FVI – after being convicted of second-degree murder, said the kennel program and others have made a huge difference in her life.

She has also participated in the culinary program and in self-improvement courses that have helped her deal better with her emotions and prepare her for a life outside of prison.

“In this environment, if you need help, you can get it here. If you don’t care about getting help, it won’t do anything for you,” said Dennett, who is due for day parole in June 2018.

She said every program she has taken at FVI has helped her “tremendously,” and she looks at prison as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.

“You’re giving us a chance to get over our mistakes, to address them and to move on from them and to deal with them … At one point in my life, I was a pretty good person, and I want to get back to doing that stuff and healing and getting a change to be with my daughter,” Dennett said.

The tour also included a visit to the kitchen, where women in minimum and medium security can shop for the items they need to prepare their own meals each week. (Women in maximum security receive prepared meals.)

Other spots on the tour included the health services unit; the recreation building, which includes a gym and fitness area; the library and classrooms; the maximum-security unit; and the medium-security units, in which up to 12 women share living space split into two sections, with a common programming area for the two.

One of the living units is set up for the mother-child program, and includes a small playground.

A 20-bed minimum-security annex, which opened in June 2014, is located outside the FVI perimeter fence and across the road.

Other employment programs offered at FVI include horticulture, interior commercial painting, jewelry silversmithing, a nail course and core construction.

Szafron responded to concerns from some who might say that prison should be more about punishment than rehabilitation.

“We treat people the way that we think is going to lead them to the best chance of a successful life in the community, and that’s really our best way to reinforce public safety in Canada,” he said.

 

Ellen Dennett, an inmate at Fraser Valley Institution for Women, shares her story during a media tour of the facility on Thursday. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

A guard opens the door into one of the segregation cells at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

The grounds of Fraser Valley Institution for Women, located on King Road in Abbotsford. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Just Posted

Drugs and cash seized by Chilliwack RCMP

One man was arrested and drugs were seized in the early hours of Oct. 12, police said

Heavy turnout at advance poll in Chilliwack

Some voters waited as long as two hours

Around the BCHL: Youth trumps experience for Chilliwack and Salmon Arm

Around the BCHL is a look at goings-on in the BCHL and the junior A world.

Retirement of Chuck Stam brought out kind words and fond goodbyes

Tuesday was the last council meeting for a councillor who has served Chilliwack for almost 20 years

Chilliwack City Watch member helps RCMP catch drunk driver

Volunteer flagged down officer after watching vehicle driving erratically on Yale Road

Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

About five people lined up early for the opening of the BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops.

Nurses call on B.C. health minister to end violence in the workplace

Nurses delivered thousands of postcards to the front steps of the B.C. legislature, each carrying a message for violence prevention

Openly gay, female priest of B.C. church defying norms

Andrea Brennan serves Fernie at pivotal time in church’s history

Nova Scotia works to stop underage online cannabis sales

The government cannabis retailer moves to prevent workaround of online-age verification

Foster care is ‘superhighway to homelessness,’ B.C. youth advocate says

Katherine McParland grew up in foster care and lived on the streets

Carr, Morneau off to China next month to deepen commerce

Carr says Canada and China aren’t embarking on formal free trade talks

Edmonton girl guide sells out of cookies in front of cannabis store

On the first day cannabis was legal a young entrepreneur capitalized on cookie sales

Tougher laws introduced against bestiality, animal fighting

The Liberal government is proposing to strengthen the laws today

Money Monitor: Should you switch to a fixed-rate mortgage?

BMO’s Omar Abouzaher outlines the pros and cons of both types of mortgages

Most Read