Feature  Jail closures will have economic ripple affect says Owen Sound Mayor


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(L) Paul Johnstone, OPSEU President gives some facts as Jim Mitchell OPSEU of North Bay, Monty Vieselmeyer of West Toronto, Mayor Deb Haswell (C), Acting City Manager Glen Henry & Acting Chief of Police, William Sornberger listen  intently

(L) David Hatt, Western Regional District Manager Adult Institutions, Assistant Deputy Minister, Steven Hall, Dan Sidsworth and President, Paul Johnstone representing OPSEU

Owen Sound Mayor, Deb Haswell, met with OPSEU union representatives and the Deputy Police Chief to look at the ramifications of the recent announcement that the Owen Sound jail would be closing.

Undergoing some $200,000 in renovations, work was suddenly halted when the announcement came through from the Provincial Government that the jail was to be closed, along with jails in Sarnia and Walkerton.  Instead, the Penetang 'mega prison' will be built.

"There has been a complete lack of consultation," said Mayor Haswell.  "We were told it was because of the 'high degree of confidentiality surrounding the budget.  However, Grey County received a letter on March 28th and the budget came out on the 29th."

At a recent meeting that included the Warden of Grey County, the OPSEU president, the President of the Grey County Lawyers' Association, Canada Mental Health and several others, the efficiency of maintaining the original jail was discussed and the economic and social repercussions that would result from its being closed.

Acting Police Chief, William Sornerberger, concerned about extra costs being placed municipal police budget

"The more we discussed it, the more questions we had," Haswell pointed out.  "There are many issues here:  the inability for people to serve intermittent sentences on weekends when they must work during the week to support families; First Nations communities will be directly impacted and they were not consulted; there are Charter of Rights issues; a loss of local counselling services for in-mates working toward rehabilitation ... and the list goes on."

"We are asking the Province to postpone the closure of Owen Sound and Walkerton.  We asking for a full review in consultation with the community stakeholders before any further action is taken," added the Mayor. "Whoever made this decision does not understand the geography of the region or the weather that we encounter during the winter months.  What happens if prisoners are to be transported and the highways are closed, as is often the case here?"

Both wardens for Grey and Bruce Counties are taking the lead and meeting in Queen's Park with Minister Bradley who oversees correctional services along with MPP Bill Murdoch for Grey Bruce Owen Sound and Carol Mitchell for Huron Bruce.

Several petitions have been forwarded to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

In a letter written by Marie Laurent of Canadian Mental Health Services and program Manager with Court Support Services, she states that it appears as though the "... separate ministries operate in silos with no knowledge of what the other ministries are doing.  The Ministry of Health & Long Term Care has invested heavily in Court Support Services and millions have been invested in a new Owen Sound Court House where will now be no jail to house prisoners waiting to come before the courts."

In Owen Sound, the move would result in a loss of 55 jobs and, possibly, families from the area and, in Walkerton another 40.  "This is devastating to a rural community," says Walkerton Mayor David Inglis, "and represents some$3 million in lost economic income with the municipality. In addition there will be huge costs to transport prisons back and forth to Penetanguishene and estimated increases in thousands of municipal dollars to annual police budgets."

According to the Ministry, the Walkerton jail is prohibitive to repair which Mayor Inglis challenges.  "The jail has been maintained by the County and the tenant and the facility is fully functional with only a $100,000 estimate of bringing it completely up to standard."


In addition, OPSEU President and Jail Guard, Paul Johnstone, pointed out that the three jails being closed are actually the most efficiently run.  "They have the lowest operating costs among the 10 jails in the Province.  So why is the Province closing the ones that are costing the least?"

He went on to say that, "People are absolutely devastated.  They are being told they either have to re-locate or they have no jobs.  Families are looking at being split apart, children are being uprooted, people are being asked to sell their homes.  We have lost our manufacturing in this region and now we are losing our services."

"We know that $3million will be lost in each location," added Mayor Haswell, "but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The ripple affect throughout the region will be catastrophic.  We need to talk common sense here and need to remind our Toronto officials that we are in a significant community, a significant geographic area and we do not deserve any less than the GTA and this is absolutely an erosion of our services here.  This is not over yet!"

While they were meeting in City Hall, across town at the Stone Creek Golf & Country Club, the jail guards themselves were meeting with Assistant Deputy Minister, Steven Small and Western Regional District Manager, David Hatt.

The guards were told that they would be given a choice of moving to the Penetang mega-prison or have their employment terminated.  Many in the room were visibly upset. 

(L) David Hatt and ADM, Steven Small

"We want this jail closed by the end of September," said Small.  "You'll have seven paid days to go and try to find a place to live if you re-locate.  There will also be temporary living costs put in place."

Hollie Black and others in the room were visibly upset

Hollie Black, choked back tears as she said that it had taken her seven years to become a full-time guard.  "My husband is a paramedic here and I have two little girls, 5 and 18 months and a home.  I can't expect my family to just pick up and move and, yet, we need our two incomes."

One possible solution that Mayors in the region had suggested was to build a smaller, central prison to serve Grey-Bruce so that it would be accessible to Goderich, Walkerton, Owen Sound and the Bruce Peninsula as well as the new.  Small bluntly said,  "There is absolutely no plan or decision made regarding a new jail in this area."

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Thursday, April 14, 2011