Nestled in the lush Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Ferndale Institution has a bucolic setting belying its status as a federal prison facility. As one of Canada’s minimum-security penitentiaries, Ferndale has faced scrutiny and generated debate over its operations, privileges granted to inmates, and incidents involving escapes over its 50-year history. Despite the controversies, Ferndale continues serving an important role as part of the federal corrections system, aiming to prepare inmates for successful reintegration into society upon release.
Location Ferndale Institution, previously known as Ferndale Annex, is located in Mission, British Columbia, about 80 kilometers east of Vancouver in the central Fraser Valley region. It sits on a sprawling reserve shared with the medium-security Mission Institution.
Security Level and Features As a minimum-security facility, Ferndale has no perimeter fencing or barriers. The layout features residential-style housing units rather than traditional, more restrictive cell blocks. With abundant green space and few physical restrictions, Ferndale affords inmates significant freedoms compared to higher security prisons.
Capacity and History Ferndale opened in 1973 with a capacity for 166 inmates. For most of its history, the grounds included a 9-hole golf course frequented by inmates, staff and community groups, but this was eventually closed due to public complaints.
Inmates housed at Ferndale are classified as minimum security, or CSC Level II. Most have transitioned down from medium or maximum security prisons after demonstrating good behavior and progress towards rehabilitation.
Classification and Privileges To reach minimum security status, inmates must meet strict criteria laid out in CSC’s Security Reclassification Scale. Many Ferndale residents are at “pre-release” status, meaning they are close to finishing their sentences and re-entering society. These inmates enjoy increased privileges as they prepare to reintegrate.
**Controversies ** However, some inmates have sparked outrage over perceived special treatment. Former politician Colin Thatcher, convicted of murdering his wife, was once allowed to bring his ranch horses to Ferndale—a privilege that brought complaints and was eventually revoked.
Operations and Programming
Typical Day A typical day at Ferndale involves inmates participating in work, skills training, counseling, and rehabilitation programming to prepare for release. With Ferndale’s open concept, residents enjoy significant freedom of movement around the facility and grounds during daylight hours.
Programming Inmates have access to academic education, as well as vocational skills training ranging from carpentry to animal husbandry. The prison pioneered CSC’s restorative justice initiative, bringing together offenders, victims and families for reconciliation.
Oversight and Staff
Ferndale is managed by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), under the direction of a warden and other administrative personnel. The current warden is Shawn Huish.
Past warden Ron Wiebe was instrumental in launching Ferndale’s restorative justice programming. However, the facility has also seen incidents of incompetence and corruption under some former staff.
Escapes and Incidents
As a minimum-security facility, Ferndale has experienced a number of inmate “walkaways” over the decades—including a handful by offenders serving life sentences:
- 2018: John Norman Mackenzie, convicted murderer, escaped and remains at large
- 2017: Robert Raymond Dezwaan, convicted murderer, escaped and remains at large
- 2011: Two separate escapes by a burglar and a convicted murderer occurred
These incidents have raised concerns from the public about the appropriateness of housing such dangerous offenders in a lax environment like Ferndale.
Impacts on the Community
Interactions and Relations Ferndale aims to build positive ties with the community through volunteer work programs, temporary inmate releases, and community supervision. Some residents have achieved local celebrity status through art sales and other endeavors.
Concerns However, the open campus setting and incidents like escapes have also bred resentment amongst some Mission residents about having a prison facility located in their neighborhood.
In recent years, Ferndale has faced changes like the closure of its golf course and tighter restrictions on housing the most dangerous offender classifications onsite.
Administrators claim efforts are underway to balance public safety with rehabilitative aims. An expansion in video surveillance and monitoring technology has also occurred to deter and catch escapees.
The Future of Ferndale
As a long-standing landmark in Mission, Ferndale Institution’s future remains uncertain. With an aging infrastructure and evolving philosophies on corrections in Canada, major change could be imminent.
Challenges Ferndale must continue balancing safety and security with its rehabilitative mission in a way that placates community concerns without sacrificing inmate privileges conducive to successful re-entry into society.
Opportunities Advancements in non-intrusive surveillance, restorative justice and offender risk assessment may allow facilities like Ferndale to operate safely and effectively with fewer restrictions than traditional incarceration environments.
For 50 years, Ferndale Institution has occupied an unusual niche in Canada’s prison system—straddling the line between incarceration and freedom as inmates prepare to rejoin society after serving their sentences. Its future remains unclear, but Ferndale’s legacy will likely be defined by its controversies as much as its rehabilitative aims. The facility’s status continues sparking debate around the country’s corrections philosophies and approaches.
What is the security level at Ferndale Institution?
Ferndale is classified as a minimum security, or Level II, federal prison facility under CSC’s security scale. It has no perimeter fencing or barriers, and residents enjoy significant freedoms.
What are some notable controversies from Ferndale’s past?
Allowing a convicted wife-murderer politician to bring personal horses to the facility, and having a golf course for inmates brought complaints. Several escapes by offenders like dangerous murderers also caused issues.
How are Ferndale residents preparing for release?
Inmates participate in work, vocational skills training, counseling and other rehabilitative programming to transition back into society and reduce re-offending risk. Many are at “pre-release” status.
Have there been any recent changes at Ferndale?
Recent updates include increased surveillance and escape prevention technology. The golf course was also closed due to public backlash over inmates playing golf.
What does the future look like for minimum security facilities like Ferndale?
There may be pressure for expanded community supervision and technological monitoring alternatives to traditional incarceration, balanced with restorative justice and specialized treatment approaches, based on assessment of offender risk factors underlying criminal behaviors.