More than two years after Kingston penitentiary was mothballed — Canada’s prison watchdog is still questioning whether it was the right decision. Howard Sapers has just come out with his annual report on the state of the correctional system. He’s raising red flags about prison over-crowding and the treatment of inmates with mental health issues. Newswatch’s Morganne Campbell has more.
Kingston Pen was known as the “Grandfather of Corrections” until it was shuttered by the Harper Government in the fall of 2013. The Conservatives claimed the closure would save millions. At the same time 30 other penitentiaries — such as Collins Bay and Bath — were in a rush to expand at a cost of 700 million dollars. A short-sighted decision, according to Canada’s prison watchdog.
“You really do have to scratch your head …”
“The real question is did they have the strategic long view of what cell capacity we needed? And I think the answer is, is that they didn’t.”
2,700 cells were added as part of the largest prison expansion in Canadian history. But critics say closing Kingston Pen and another prison in Quebec has left Corrections no further ahead — there is still overcrowding.
“The closure of the facilities really made no economical sense in our viewpoint. We lost over 1,000 beds and both of those facilities were perfectly functioning facilities.”
A point echoed by Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, who was mayor during KP’s surprise closure.
“If the previous government had taken the time to listen to the correctional officers, to listen to the public, to listen to the impact that Kingston Pen had on our economy here in Kingston, I think they would’ve seen the bigger picture.”
A picture that Sapers looked at in his final report as Canada’s Correctional Investigator. The study was completed last June, but shelved during the federal election campaign. It found prison overcrowding has increased by 10 percent in 2014 -2015. And there was a significant increase in the number of inmate assaults, suicides and other deaths…. while there were 15-hundred reported incidents of ‘use of force’ by guards.
“It’s the reality of the situation that the previous government left the new government with.”
“The report comes with 18 recommendations for Corrections Canada. They range from simple issues like change in policy, procedures and common practice within the institutions…. to complex issues like eliminating the solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates.”
The union representing correctional officers says inmate segregation is an important part of the correctional system.
“The notion that we lock up inmates 23 hours a day with no interaction, that’s an American movie and that’s solitary confinement and in our prison system it’s for the safety of staff and inmates.”
Meantime, CSC says it is reviewing recommendations, but made no guarantees that any or all of them will be implemented. Morganne Campbell CKWS Newswatch Kingston.