by Jim Bertram
Since the surprise announcement of the big new jail in August,2020, numerous serious questions have been brought forward by many local residents: questions that would best have been aired in preliminary discussions with the local residents of North Grenville and municipal Council as a means of allowing local citizens to assess the proposed new addition to our community. The Province did not, however, wish to take the democratic, consultative community-building route, preferring brute power to calm, fair reason, and persuasion. So, finally, over these many months, it has been left to those who are willing to raise important questions for the sake of our community to do so. Last week’s letter by Nadia Gray and the article titled “The Proposed Prison” are laudable recent examples. Heartfelt thanks and admiration to all who venture out of their circle of comfort to raise their voices as leaders and defenders of their community.
Starting with my article in August, 2020, I myself have, in numerous articles, raised many important questions relative to the casually undemocratic manner of inflicting this prison on North Grenville. Many questions relating to harms to our community in fiscal terms, additional policing costs, water and sewage infrastructure costs, and others have been raised by me and other writers in letters and articles. This was certainly not done to cause division, as some have suggested, but rather to inform and warn residents of the threat the evolving prison project represents. It has been done, and is still done, out of a sense of duty to our neighbours and fellow residents. One question among the many others I have alluded to in the past is: “What will be the social impact of the jail on the small population of the town of Kemptville, which is immediately contiguous to this large, new and potentially growing presence? (Kemptville population 4,000 in 2016, according to census figures. Total population, including Kemptville, of North Grenville approximately 18,000 in 2016).
Well, consider, as a small example, the subject of drug use and the potential growth of the illicit drug industry in Kemptville which will accompany the more than 200 new arrivals in the first phase of Kemptville’s new role as the southern hub of Ottawa’s Correctional system. Here’s something to reflect on in that regard. Consider the following quote from an article written by a prisoner himself: “Everyone’s always shocked to learn that so many drugs are available in prison. But, why, I always wonder.” And the following quote from an organisation dedicated to helping prisoners to abandon the drug habit: “Prisoners that enter the system are, in most cases, able to immediately access drugs via extensive trafficking operations that exist in most prisons.”
The problem of drugs in prison is a serious one. And it is very widespread in North American penal institutions. “To the average person, many assume that drugs would be difficult to get inside. However, drugs are often easier to get inside prison or jail than they are to get on the streets.” Ah, but not in Canada, you say? To give the subject an immediate presence, consider the following recent excerpt from CBC news: “Hamilton police charged two correctional officers at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre for distributing drugs to inmates.” One incident among a variety of criminal actions – mostly not involving correctional officials, thank goodness. Actions which contribute to the widespread presence of drugs in jails, prisons, or “correctional institutes”, and whatever other camouflage term the Solicitor General’s minions might devise.
Well, so what, you might say. Those drugs are IN the jail. Right? And yes, unfortunately, that IS true. But think. Where did the drugs come from? Outside the jail, correct? And what will lie in immediate proximity outside the walls of this unwanted addition to our community? Well, that would be Kemptville. You, in other words. And your family and friends and other town residents.
So, what do you think the addition of a few hundred (to begin with) regular drug users will do for the local drug trade? Well folks, let’s just say it’s good news for those “in the trade”. The jump in drug sales and the other criminal activities which attach thereto will be phenomenal, as it has been in similar circumstances elsewhere. Is that the economic growth the Province and municipal government were referring to last year? Of course not. But it’s the only significant economic growth that will occur because of the new prison. And Kemptville will be far the worse for it.
As for negotiating with the Province for a much enhanced OPP presence to be paid for by the Province? No. Nyet. Non. Nein. Not a bit of it. The Province is not willing to budge on this point at this time. Not without significant pressure. They are currently trying to cut policing costs, and you can see by their behaviour how much importance the Province attaches to poor little Kemptville and North Grenville. They’ll GIVE us the prison alright, but not the financial means to deal with it. Please be aware of this for your own future good!
Of course, our Municipal and Provincial government officials will quite probably deny the many points above at this time and leading up to next year’s provincial and municipal elections. Nevertheless, those of us who will remember the Province’s harsh imposition of the jail, and the lack of municipal leadership in protection of the interests of North Grenville, will still have a stack of pointed questions. Let’s be sure to remember what they are. And let’s not stop bringing them forward in a clear, civilized, and direct manner.