Regarding the provincial government’s planned Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex for Kemptville (North Grenville Times, September 2, 2020), I believe the expression, “three strikes and you’re out” fits the bill: wrong location, wrong time, wrong plan.
The municipally-owned Kemptville Campus is a jewel in the Municipality of North Grenville. Mature trees, green expanse, trails, sports facilities, and architecturally inspiring buildings – the list goes on. No surprise then that the site has attracted schools, a day care centre, and small businesses to its tranquil setting. Bicyclists and pedestrians can enter the area from its east or west side via the rail trail – another jewel.
Enter a maximum-security prison to be built on existing farmland. “Correctional complex” sounds softer perhaps, but the provincial government’s plan is clear – building a maximum-security prison across the street from the 630-acre green space that was to represent an important element of North Grenville’s future – an “education and community hub focused on education and training, health and wellness and economic development”. Over the next several years, as the Province erodes the tranquility and security of the area, that vision will be irreparably harmed, if not destroyed.
How will parents feel about sending their children to school on campus? How will women feel about biking along the treed rail trail when it emerges onto a road only metres from the entrance to the prison? How will tourists and visitors feel about attend- ing an outdoor music festival or educational programming?
Here is our reality today: a worldwide pandemic, health and education systems severely strained as a result, an unprecedented need for government spending to support individuals, families, and businesses, increasing awareness of the disparities between rich and poor, an epidemic of drug overdose deaths, enhanced recognition of the huge gap in mental health services across the province, and a heightened awareness of the systemic racism that exists within our institutions, including within policing and the judicial system.
Is this the time to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a correctional complex in Kemptville to increase the number of jail cells in the Province?
Most harmful is the ethos that lies behind the government’s plans to “modernize” the correctional system. Building more jails means building more capacity to incarcerate people at a time when the focus should be on the root causes that lead to crime. Proponents of the plan will argue that building new, larger facilities will improve conditions for inmates, but the new provincial jails in Toronto and Edmonton have proven otherwise.
The correctional system is broken – we continue to incarcerate Indigenous and Black men and women at rates significantly disproportionate to their population numbers. We jail non-violent offenders, drug users, and individuals requiring mental health treatment.
Since COVID-19, thousands of inmates have been released from jails with no corresponding increases in crime. Violent crime is at near-historic lows. The provincial government pays almost $80,000 per year (fiscal year 2015/16) to house a single inmate, including the large percentage of individuals who are pre-trial and awaiting court dates. It is critical to ask how that money could be better spent as we grapple with the worst pandemic in 100 years, and address the negative economic, social and health outcomes that have resulted from it.
A “fait accompli”? It will be up to the residents of North Grenville to write a different ending.