by Victor Lachance
If you’re like me, when the provincial government announced its plan for a prison in Kemptville, you were curious about its implications on our small community. Some may have given it little thought; others may have liked the idea, and still others knew they hated the idea. But I think none of us have been given complete and accurate information about the government’s plan. And that’s not good for any of us.
As I’ve gone through the details of a stakeholder session (Oct. 30), a public engagement session (Nov. 26), a justice sector stakeholder session (Nov. 27), conversations with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, I’ve now moved from being curious to being frustrated, if not outright annoyed, at the prison situation. From the province, I do not see the kind of transparency and response to questions that warrant having faith in their expressions of best intentions. From Steve Clark, I do not see anything other than a sense of accomplishment at simply getting the province to speak about their plan.
From our Municipal Council, I do not see the kind of balanced approach between working with the province while publicly responding to Kemptville residents’ concerns, including the evidenced-based reasons for not expanding the prison system. It seems to me as if Council has decided to be cheerleaders for the province’s plan, which, in my view, then requires countervailing measures to have a balanced public debate. I have therefore joined a group called CAPP – the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison – in an effort to ensure that Kemptville residents are as informed as possible about the prison, and that their concerns continue to be heard.
Before we get to claims of NIMBY-ism, there is a simpler argument: more prisons should not be in anyone’s back yard. For example, the Ontario prison population at any given time is made up of between 65% to 70% of people on remand – meaning they’re awaiting their day in court or sentencing. The province has long acknowledged this problem with promises to reduce that number. Building more prisons is simply an acknowledgement of the failure to do so. Why spend up to 250 million of taxpayer dollars to build and then operate a prison when you could save money by reducing the remand population, and spend that money on things like our education system, health care, or nursing homes?
When they say “we need prisons and they have to go somewhere”, they are basically saying “we run the prison system so badly that we have no choice but to build more prisons”. Well, maybe they have no choice, but we do. We should hold them accountable for a badly run incarceration system that is both expensive and solvable. And the solution is not to continue to disproportionately incarcerate indigenous people, Black people, poor people, and addicted people. The solution is not to add another piece to the broken system.
The proposed prison wouldn’t be in our backyard, it would be in our home. For our small community to accommodate a prison, Kemptville would have to change. We’d have to become a prison town. Call it whatever we like, it will simply be known as the Kemptville Prison. And if that’s so good for a small community like ours, why are there no other communities out there clamouring for a prison?
Then, on top of the lack of detailed information, there’s what appears to be disinformation – which includes making claims without evidence to back them up. The province claims that their plan will create jobs and be a boon to our local economy. Where’s the evidence? Those responsible use vague assurances that they will work with the Municipality to, basically, make the best of a bad situation. Meanwhile, our Municipal Council has chosen to say that the prison is being built within North Grenville’s taxpayer population of 17,000. You might as well say that it’s being placed on 40 acres within the province’s 12 million acres of farmland. It’s true, but it’s disingenuous. The proposal is to place it in Kemptville, and its population is not 17,000.
Here’s a theory: there’s an election coming up in 2022 and the provincial government announced 500 million dollars for the prison system. Now the Ministry of the Solicitor General has to come up with a plan in a hurry, as evidenced by their lack of any specific information. Sure, the plan is for a nicer model of prison – not that hard to do when you look at every other prison – but that’s just designing a room instead of repairing the house. It seems to me that the choice to build the prison here is not about the site, or the prison population, and it’s not about repairing a broken system. It seems to be all about getting the money spent as quickly as possible, instead of taking the time to develop a good plan. We deserve better.
This is about doing things better: a better use of the arable land, a better use of existing prisons by reducing the remand population, a better use of money, a better way for economic development, a better use of the International Plowing Match investment, a better plan for the future of Kemptville.