William Head Institution in Metchosin is the only federal penitentiary on Vancouver Island, and is home to 190 inmates and focuses on rehabilittion and the successful reintegration of inmates back into society. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

William Head prison offers inmates a second chance at life

Federal prison focuses on successful reintegration into society

Driving up the road to the William Head Institution in Metchosin, it feels more like a community than a prison.

Several houses and farms dot the roads until crossing the invisible line into federal land. A large grey sign welcomes drivers to the prison.

There are no large fences blocking the entrance and no guards – things that normally come to mind when people think of prisons. Inmates don’t wear orange jumpsuits and there are no mess halls were they gather to eat three meals a day.

In fact, William Head is the opposite of stereotypical prisons that are shown in movies and TV shows.

Currently home to 190 inmates, the minimum security prison – which is the only federal penitentiary on Vancouver Island – focuses on public safety, managing the risk that inmates pose to the public, the rehabilitation of inmates, and helping them become contributing members of society.

“We’re the last step before they become your neighbour or my neighbour,” said warden Trent Mitchell to a group of 14 people from the WestShore Chamber of Commerce who toured the facility earlier this week. “It’s meant to mirror community life with a bit more structure.”

RELATED: Prison program builds bridges

The length of one’s sentence determines the type of facility they wind up in. If someone is convicted and sentenced to two years less a day, they are entered into the provincial system. If they receive a sentence of more than two years, they are entered into the federal system.

Inmates in the federal system are assessed at the Regional Assessment Centre and then placed at the appropriate security level. Those who have committed violent crimes are often initially placed in a maximum security institution and then, once they work their way through a correctional plan, are able to move to medium or minimum security institutions over time. Once they prove they are a low risk of escaping and a low risk to the public, they can then be transferred to minimum security correctional institutions, such as William Head.

William Head has had its share of inmates since it opened in 1959, from murderers to rapists and pedophiles to those who have committed break and enters.

At William Head, where the average age of inmates is about 37 years old, inmates begin the process of rehabilitation and get a taste of life outside prison walls.

Inmates live in red-brick duplexes roughly 1,200-square-feet in size with four other inmates, have their own bunks, and share washroom and kitchen facilities. As a household, inmates must decide what meals they’re going to cook for the week and are given a catalogue of food to choose from. Every Thursday they pick up their groceries, and cook and clean throughout the week.

RELATED: Inmates’ performances support sick children

The prison also keeps inmates busy throughout the day. William Head has become known for its roughly 4,000-square-foot hobby shop, where inmates can get experience in leather, metal and wood work, among other things. Some inmates sell their work online with the money going into a trust account for inmates to purchase materials, tools for hobby work and clothes, or donate items to charity as well.

There is also a replica longhouse known as the Salmon House, where aboriginal inmates looking to reconnect with their culture can learn from elders. In addition, there are a number of educational and vocational programs, where they work in the community, that teaches inmates life and job skills – all with the goal of releasing them back into the community and reducing the risk that they’ll re-offend.

Assistant warden Anthony Baldo said it’s the “hope we don’t see you again” attitude that has led to many successful reintegrations of inmates back into the community.

“We see offenders more as clients or customers, that’s what they are. What does the offender need?” he said, noting about 96 per cent of the men at William Head will, at some point, be released back into the community. “We provide a service to 190 customers who will take that service back into the community … We’re trying to teach good citizenry. It’s nothing complicated. What do you in the community is what we do here, just a bit differently.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

Metchosin

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP are trying to determine why a woman fled the scene of an accident in Sooke. (File - Black Press Media)
Sooke RCMP search for driver who fled crash site

Police want to know why woman left

Knox Vision Society’s affordable housing complex at 2110 Church Rd. in Sooke. The building includes 42 affordable rental apartments. (File – Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke committee takes aim at affordable housing

Several projects close to breaking ground

The Royal Canadian Legion kicked off its annual poppy drive in Sooke with legion president Richard Steele (left), Mayor Maja Tait, T’Sou-ke Nation Chief Gordie Planes and poppy fund chair Al Stuart in attendance. (Kevin Laird/News Staff)
Sooke Legion credits restaurant, volunteers for keeping doors open through pandemic

‘We’re not making a lot of money, but we’re not losing a lot either,’ says legion president

The Capital Regional District is considering adding another dollar a year to the parkland acquisition fund fee for homeowners. (Black Press Media file photo)
One dollar or two? Greater Victoria parks acquisition fee hike spurs debate

$2 a year too steep, CRD committee recommends $1 a year increase per household

Patrol officers from VicPD’s Esquimalt division responded to a call about hateful graffiti in Macaulay Park Wednesday evening. (Black Press Media file photo)
Anti-Semitic, hate-based graffiti found in Esquimalt park

Police seek suspects after fresh hate-based graffiti found Wednesday evening

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Adam Ireton holds his son Weston, along with Kristen and Beckett as they celebrate Weston's last day of treatment for lukemia. (Kristen Ireton photo)
799 days: ‘Super’ Weston defeats cancer

‘Weston is disease-free now, so we will be going into a period of checkups and things until he’s 18’

Most Read