Over the past few weeks, I have heard from many residents and businesses regarding Premier Ford’s announcement in August of the establishment of a provincial correctional facility here in North Grenville. Of course, the location of provincial correctional facilities is solely at the discretion of the province and was a surprising development for Council and our community.
I recognize that, for some, the establishment of a correctional facility seems entirely out of character with North Grenville. For others, there is considerable enthusiasm for the opportunities that may emerge. Many more are indicating to Council that they are relatively neutral, and have adopted a wait and see approach.
Some have reminded me that there was a provincial facility in Burritt’s Rapids for over 50 years. The Rideau Correctional & Treatment Centre was opened in 1947 with an integrated farm. It was decommissioned in 2004 and subsequently demolished in 2013.
As we confront the likely reality of a new correctional centre in North Grenville, my job is to respond effectively on behalf of the community. I recognize that this issue has become divisive for some who want Council to take a strong position against. At this stage, this would be premature, given how little we know and the diverse opinions out there.
The building of a provincial correctional facility is a lengthy, multi-faceted process that will take a number of years to complete. During this time, your Council will be tireless in its efforts to protect the community and its character. As Mayor, I will ensure that we maintain a strong voice at every step of the way. Should we conclude that the effects of this facility will be detrimental, we will absolutely confront that head on.
For clarity’s sake, the prospective correctional facility is slated to be located on a 182-acre parcel of land that is separate and apart from the current Kemptville Campus. In 2018, the Municipality purchased a 626-acre parcel that was part of the former Kemptville College, and the French Public Board purchased an additional 7-acre plot. Under the municipality’s control at Kemptville Campus is a variety of buildings, greenhouses, wetlands, trails, farm land, sugar bush, and more. Plans to fully utilize the wonderful facilities and natural assets at the Kemptville Campus continue. After extensive community consultation, a proposed ‘master plan’ for the Campus is now available at Kemptvillecampus.ca.
The Correctional facility is intended to be a 200-plus bed facility that houses female and male offenders. The name, the Greater Ottawa Correctional Centre, is quite simply inaccurate, and will be changed, as inmates will come from across eastern Ontario. There are several provincial correctional facilities in this region that are being expanded or improved, including Ottawa, Brockville (their jail is not closing but is being rebuilt), and Napanee.
Shortly after the announcement, Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman and I began speaking with Mayors in Ontario who have a provincial or federal correctional facility in their back yards to better understand: 1/potential impact on crime rates; 2/ increased pressures on community and social services; 3/ proximity of these facilities to local schools and recreation facilities; 4/ impact on property values.
Remarkably, the Mayors of Kingston, Thunder Bay, Milton, and Brockville highlighted how much they value these facilities as community partners. More calls have been scheduled with the Mayors of Napanee and Windsor. Mayor of Kingston, Brian Paterson – who is an economics professor at the Royal Military College of Canada – stated unequivocally that, despite the presence of seven federal correctional facilities, he believes that crime rates are lower. University students put more pressures on the local policing services than Corrections. There are several schools in close proximity to a couple of these federal facilities. In Mayor Paterson’s mind, correctional facilities make for good neighbours, given the employment and related opportunities they provide for Kingston’s economy and well being.
The Mayor of Milton, Gord Krantz, who has been in politics for 40 plus years, said their provincial correctional facility was established in the early 1970s, when the area had just 7,000 people. Over several decades, and with municipal amalgamation, Milton is now a bustling community of approximately 130,000 that has literally grown around the prison. House prices in Milton have sky rocketed. Mayor Krantz said very few correctional inmates stay in Milton after release, because the province makes every effort to relocate them to where they have family and related support systems.
In Thunder Bay, there are two correctional facilities in the area. One of them is near a popular and well used recreational area, Boulevard Lake. There is also a Catholic high school across the street which was built many decades after the prison. When asked about crime rates, the Mayor said that, in his view, the facilities had no real impact on criminal activity in their community.
Finally, I spoke with Mayor Jason Baker in Brockville. Brockville is obviously the most comparable in terms of population. Mayor Baker was very clear that he believes that the two correctional facilities in their community have had a notably positive impact. He believes that crime rates are likely lower, and that there has been no impact on policing costs when it comes to activities in the correctional centres themselves.
Brockville does bear some costs for security related to their busy Courthouse. The Brocvkille jail in downtown Brockville is relatively close to two schools. The land across from one of their correctional facilities, the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional & Treatment Centre, is currently being re-developed into highly anticipated seniors’ housing.
In summary, Jim McManaman and I have learned that it’s not unusual for correctional facilities to be located close to schools and recreational amenities, and, according to the Mayors we spoke with, that crime rates, property values, and the character of these communities appear to have been in no way jeopardized. This doesn’t diminish the concerns and anxieties people have expressed, but it does put the impacts of these facilities in greater context.
Next steps: On October 30, the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s office is hosting an initial stakeholders’ meeting where representatives from all four Campus boards, and the local hospital, will have the chance to ask questions. Councillor Strackerjan and I will join this call, along with a downtown business leader, chair of the BIA, and a faith leader. In the interests of transparency, we have invited two representatives opposed to the jail, so they have all full benefit of that conversation.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General is also planning to launch its multi-phase consultation process later this Fall, which includes local indigenous groups, police forces, service providers like the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies, and members of the general public. Minister Clark will also participate in these consultations, so he has the full benefit of our community’s feedback.
During this entire process, your Council will be paying very careful attention. As we learn more and hear more, we will be adamant that the best interests of North Grenville are fully considered.