Details have been trickling in. The closure will be phased in over a couple of years, but it’s unclear where the jobs will go, or how this maximum security inmate population will be managed, especially as the government does not plan to build new prisons. There are expansions planned for other local Corrections institutions, including maximum security beds [update: 96 maximum beds at Collins Bay, 96 maximum beds at Millhaven, and we know of 96 maximum beds going in at Stony Mountain, just north of Winnipeg], but I’d like to see evidence that the government has thought about the numbers for each category of inmate. Also, we have not yet felt the impact of the Conservative government’s very recently passed omnibus crime bill, which is expected to increase the prison population.
There was no plan announced today regarding the Regional Treatment Centre. We don’t know how that will affect the management of mentally ill inmates [update: typically 140 patients]. I’ve visited the Centre and learned that there are some very difficult patients in the Centre and I don’t think it will be a trivial task to re-create the Centre elsewhere.
[Update: Another thing that's not easy to recreate is the "team" of clinical staff and security staff that work well together at the Regional Treatment Centre. It takes a certain kind of Correctional Officer who takes an interest in working with the mentally ill to do a good job at a Treatment Centre. These human resources are available in the Kingston region and I hope that a new Treatment Centre is set up in the region.]
Today’s unexpected announcement fits the pattern of a cloud of secrecy surrounding the federal government’s budget. We debated the budget a few weeks ago, but people in the Kingston area did not have any chance to provide input on the budget because they had no idea that the closure of Kingston Pen was in the works. A government cannot be open and accountable if major announcements are only made after debate has occurred. Minister Toews today said that plans are in place to build new units in other institutions to replace Kingston Penitentiary. If so, then the minister would have known about the closure of KP for some time, and could have made some reference to it in the federal Budget.
The minister has said that there will be savings of $120 million from the closures announced today. I challenge the minister to produce the data and analysis to back up that claim, as experience shows one cannot always trust this government on how it comes up with numbers for costs and savings. Kingston Penitentiary has been open for nearly two centuries. During that time it has become out of date and renovated several times. It has kept up with the times for nearly two centuries. Why now is this not possible? Let the minister produce an assessment of costs and benefits for a closure as compared to a renovation [update: or a re-purposing]!
Let the minister produce the numbers for the people of Kingston and the Islands!
[update: the $120m is roughly equal to the most recent $112m combined budget for Kingston Pen, Regional Treatment Centre and Leclerc Institution, according to Public Accounts of Canada 2011. So that cannot possibly be the net savings to the taxpayer. We must subtract the cost of housing the roughly 1000 inmates elsewhere.]