Charter Rights
Story Archives
Contact Capp @   or   Post Comments  CAPP Message Board   and  Any Upcoming Events

Canada: MTC one year later ... Part 1

"One Year Later" - Just how successful is the Superjail experiment?
Printed in the Midland Free Press
January 3, 2003
By Margaret Bruineman
Used with permission

Part 1
A year after Penetanguishene's Super Jail opened to it's first inmate, the argument over privatization continues to fester. The community initially embraced the prospect of having another public institution next to the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre, expanding upon its long history with the civil service.

And then the province announced it would become Canada's first privately-run jail.

A litany of problems have since plagued the Central North Correctional Centre.

Several lawsuits and complaints insinuate abuse and disregard for the inmate's health and welfare. Food, health and the security of inmates are compromised, say critics. They argue that the flow of information is minimal because the operators can hide behind the veil of privacy.

And the town's relationship with the provincial government over the new jail remains strained.

But Canada's foray into jail privatization has just begun and from the operator's point of view it has gone well. And while the critics in the Town of Penetanguishene are many, there are supporters and those who profit from the jail as well.

Administrator Doug Thomson says an in-jail high school program has prompted some inmates to pursue their diplomas. And a list of other programs such as parenting skills, sexual behaviour and substance abuse counselling are offered.

"It's been a very busy year," said Thomson. "I think we're doing a great job."

But there are strains that precede the jails opening.

"Halfway through the construction the game changed," said Penetanguishene's Deputy Mayor Randy Robbins. 'We still have some outstanding issues."

He argues as a profitable business, Management Training Corporation (which landed the contract to operate the jail) should be paying about $1.1 million in business taxes every year. Instead it pays an inmate per diem which works out to about $90,000 per year, one-third of which goes to the County of Simcoe.

Damages to a nearby house during the construction of the jail has prompted the Town of Penetanguishene to sue the provincial government to recoup the costs.

And now there are concerns that a faulty waste disposal system at the jail is clogging the town's sewer system with food waste, latex gloves and toothbrushes. The bacteria level believed to be coming from the jail was measured 1,000 per cent above the legal limit.

The town is threatening to sue if orders to fit it are not heeded.

Local critics say the privatization exercise in the United States is a disaster and the local foray into privatization, albeit with a Canadian twist, is doomed for failure.

Robbins argues that the public service is responsible for maintaining order and arresting criminals. It is also responsible for the ultimate judgement of the individual. Leaving issues of jailing and rehabilitation to the public sector doesn't make sense, he argues.

"It's not working out," he said. "I believe the pendulum is going the other way in the United States.

"Ultra conservatism demanded it be tried. But it didn't work."

Harvey Briggs, a Laurentian University professor teaching at Georgian College in Barrie, comes to the same conclusion.

Briggs' area of concentration has been on the war on drugs in the United States.

He concludes it's been a real boom for the private jail industry. And now immigrant detainees are feeding the country's private jail system.

He also declares it's a failed experiment. However he concedes Ontario simply hasn't handed over the keys to the jail to the private company, as in some U.S. jurisdictions. The province not only keeps tabs on the daily operations, but maintains the upper hand by having the ability to take over the jail if need be.

Briggs predicts Robbins will never see compensation in the form of taxation. Historically, says Briggs, U.S. corporations operating in Canada manage to skirt taxation.

And he doesn't expect Ontario residents to pay less taxes as a result.

"The big argument in the U.S. was massive savings, but they never did materialize," he adds.

A key figure overseeing the jail's introduction says the Ontario government has established several factors to keep the private operators in line.

Super Jail a "good corporate citizen"

And ultimately the responsibility for the jail rests with the government.

"What we're doing is delegating or contracting our responsibility," said Brian Low, executive lead for the alternative services delivery for the Ontario Ministry of Public Safety and Security. "If there came a time when we were totally dissatisified...we have step-in rights."

A contract compliance manager working for the provincial government oversees the operation, as part of a four-person unit. The function is to safeguard and monitor the facility.

That is done on site and through reports but Low said that it doesn't necessarily mean a compliance officer is on site all the time.

"We have not seen evidence of non-compliance that would take us down that path," said Low. "Our responsibility in to ensure public safety."

Before the jail opened, the province established a board of monitors which consists of six members of the community working on a volunteer basis. The monitors have "unfettered access" to any part of the jail at any time unless there is a security concern., said Low.

A community advisory committee was also established to provide the jail operators with feedback.

Low said running the jail remains the responsibility of the private company.

And it is being held to the contract with the government, which scrutinizes its work and the subcontractors it uses to deliver health care, food services and education.

The purpose of running the jail through the private sector, he said, was to introduce new approaches and a competitive environment that may enhance effectiveness.

Clare Lewis is concerned. But as Ontario's ombudsman his concern stretches into all of the provinces jails.

"It comes somewhere in the middle in the ratio of complaints." said Lewis.

"Given the size of the institution 1,060 inmates, it is not out of line."

Of about 7,700 complaints made to his office about jails over 12 months, about 1,600 came from the Central North Correctional Centre.

Because it is being run by a private organization and is different than any other jail, Lewis promises to keep a sharp eye out. But he said it's still early and its' mirror image, a jail in Lindsay to be run by the public sector, has yet to open to provide a comparative analysis.

"There are some issues we're looking at that are unique to this facility," he said.

But Lewis said he can't talk in specifics and he can't discuss his findings until after he reports to the legislator. The ombudsman's report is traditionally released to the public in June.

The government, jail staff and some residents say the jail with it's annual budget of $34 million, is good for the community.

Mayor Anita Dubeau doesn't see privatization as the natural enemy. Whether the jail is run by the private or public sector is a moot point, she said.

Her main concern is public safety.

In fact, Dubeau suggested the provincial government is the town's current foe. The town's outstanding issues - the damaged house, the jails sewage system and a per diem payment instead of taxation - are with the province.

The difference in opinion between the town's mayor and deputy mayor is reflective of a split in the community.

"It's a benefit for all of North Simcoe," said Dubeau. Of the estimated $20 million the jail spend, about $15 million are in wages. "I think MTC have been good corporate citizens for Penetanguishene."

Jail officials, she added, have been in constant communication with council and a protocol ensures that Dubeau and other officials are notified almost immediately in the event of a serious concern.

On the night of the Sept. 19 uprising, Dubeau received two calls which prompted her to go to the jail, joining about 60 police officers from the area.

It is unclear what happened that night. Officials have yet to release their report or discuss what some have called a riot.

From a business perspective, Dubeau has company.

Certainly Bill Waters couldn't be happier.

"Last year we had the largest percentage growth of 200 stores in Canada," said the owner of Marlynn's BuroPlus office supply store on Main Street.

Assertions that the private operators of the Central North Correctional Facility would buy locally have certainly have been borne out from Water's perspective.

The past year has been one of the best the entrepreneur has seen since he started up 26 years ago.

"You really can't get a better working relationship than what I have with them," said Waters.

Part Two of this series will appear in the January 7 issue of the Free Press.

Go to Part 2 of series

| Post Any Upcoming Events | Top of Page | Home Page | Post Comments on Message Board |