Jailhouse blues

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The news that the provincial government are planning a major correctional facility in Kemptville came as a genuine shock to the community. Even the Municipal Council were not informed until the beginning of this week, and were not permitted to say anything until the official announcement on Thursday. The proposed site is on the 182-acre farm property of the Kemptville Campus, across from the main campus and schools, right outside downtown Kemptville.

The response in the community to the announcement has been negative overall, though there are those who are pointing to the possible economic benefits such an institution may bring to the area. The hope is that, both in the construction phase and the operation of the facility, local people may be employed in various capacities. This is hard to know, as the province would likely choose a large corporation to build the facility, and it will be staffed by trained correctional officers. Perhaps there will be jobs in cleaning, catering, etc?

The proposed 235-bed facility is designed to replace the Brockville Jail, which was built in the 1840’s. The interesting wording of the official Ontario Government statement refers to the new facility as “a new Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex on an existing government-owned site in Kemptville to improve staff and inmate safety”. Apparently, there is a “Greater Ottawa” area, and we’re part of it.

Local M.P.P. Steve Clark is quoted in the announcement, and it is fairly certain that he was involved in picking Kemptville as the site, although he has seemed unusually hesitant in interviews I’ve heard with him following the news being broken last Thursday. The project is one coming from the Solicitor General’s office, and it will be that ministry which will hold public consultations with residents here in North Grenville some time later this year.

Does this all mean that the correctional facility is a done deal? Probably. Apparently, the Solicitor General’s office has put a lot of time and planning into this project, and, as the property on the outskirts of Kemptville is provincially-owned, there is nothing to stop the work going ahead, whatever the consultations show is the attitude of local residents.

In other words, it really is too early to make dogmatic statements about the future, we simply don’t have enough information. For example, what kind of inmates will be housed in Kemptville? How open will the facility be in terms of day release possibilities for inmates? These are important questions for the government to answer, especially as there are a number of schools close by the site, which is located on the edge of the town.

The announcement, it should be noted, came as a surprise to the North Grenville Municipal Council, as you will read in Mayor Peckford’s statement elsewhere in this issue. Council had been hoping that the farm property would be declared surplus by the Ontario government, at which point the municipality would try and acquire it. But that never happened, and the announcement on Thursday of last week ended any hope of that.

There has been some speculation on social media that the Municipality knew a long time ago that this news was coming, and that was why they had been laying pipes out along County Road 44 some time ago. That is not the case. The Municipality’s first indication of what was being planned came in a Monday evening phone call to Mayor Peckford from Steve Clark, who noted that no comment could be made by her until after the official announcement a few days later. Not a lot of time to take on board the implications of what she’d been told.

We, as citizens, have been assured that similar correctional facilities and other jails have been built in urban areas, and the Kemptville location is not atypical. Steve Clark has pointed out that he lives around the corner from a facility in Brockville and there’s been no problems there. For now, we must take his word, as our elected representative, that this is so, and that the new institution will not be a source of concern, that our security is not threatened in any way. No doubt, as the public consultations begin, many of our questions and concerns will be addressed, and hopefully to our satisfaction.

This may be a done deal, and the consultations may not satisfy everyone; but, for now, we can begin our research and draw up our questions to put to whatever officials arrive in town to set our minds at rest.

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