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Canada: Private youth camp targeted for closure.

Liberals may shut youth boot camp
Budget deficit no excuse to cut program, MPP says

Siri Agrell
National Post
Monday, November 17, 2003
Camp Turnaround is a privately operated correctional centre for young offenders, started by the Harris government in Simcoe County.

Ontario's new Liberal government is considering closing a controversial "boot camp" for young offenders.

The $3-million contract held by Project Turnaround, a privately run Simcoe County jail for troubled teens, expires in January, and with the new Liberal government facing an estimated $5.6-billion deficit, a Conservative MPP said the facility could be first on the chopping block.

"I believe it's something they're looking at," said Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop, newly appointed Conservative critic for community safety and corrections. "If the Liberals try to close it down for financial reasons, they're cutting off their nose to spite their face."

Opened by the Tories under Mike Harris in 1997, Project Turnaround came to symbolize the party's tough stance on crime, and was a focus of Liberal criticism for its strict handling of young offenders.

Mr. Dunlop said closing Project Turnaround would be a gift to union representatives who supported the Liberal's successful bid for power.

"There have been a lot of deals made with OPSEU [Ontario Public Service Employees Union] to create more jobs in the public sector.... I think [Premier Dalton] McGuinty owes a lot of favours to the union leaders," he said. "It's certainly not to show that they're any kind of financial wizards, because this is not a bright move."

Located near Hillsdale, Ont., 25 kilometres west of Orillia, Project Turnaround was opened as an alternative to public correctional facilities where young offenders have access to video games and other luxuries.

Operated by the Embrace Youth Corporation, the facility for 16- and 17-year-old young offenders operates on a 39-hectare former work camp for adult offenders.

As many as 32 young offenders are held there at a time, referred to as cadets and forced to adhere to a strict military lifestyle.

The youths are required to participate in 16-hour days that include school, literacy and life-skills programming, physical fitness, personal hygiene classes, substance abuse counselling and job training.

Several government reports concluded the program was better-managed than most public jails for young offenders.

Recidivism rates for young offenders who went through Project Turnaround are 33% compared to the 50% reoffending rate for teens in public institutions.

The facility also costs less than similar public facilities -- $239 a day at Turnaround compared to $394 at the Bluewater youth facility for young offenders.

Mr. Dunlop, whose riding encompasses Project Turnaround, the Penetanguishene jail and OPP headquarters, said the facility is an asset to the community and the provincial correctional system.

"I don't think [law and order] will be a priority for the Liberals," Mr. Dunlop said. "I think they're going to be much like the federal Liberals: soft on crime."

Monte Kwinter, the Liberal Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, was not available for comment but told an Orillia paper to "stay tuned" after he was asked whether the facility would close.

A spokesperson for the Ministry said closing Project Turnaround is one option being considered.

Julia Noonan would not say if Mr. Kwinter was satisfied with the facility's performance, but that a decision as to its fate would be released "before too long."

Project Turnaround's director, Sally Walker, said there is no reason to close the facility.

"Why would you close a program that exemplifies all the best practices?" she asked. "Why would you turn the clock back?"

Currently housing 20 young offenders, Ms. Walker said the facility is suited to those with a history of criminal behaviour who need help developing problem-solving and communication skills, value systems and tackling substance dependence.

"You can't just say: 'You're not going to commit crimes any more,' " she said. "You have to give them a set of skills."

She dislikes the term "boot camp" but says the strict daily regimen helps rehabilitate youths by teaching them responsibility.

"We really do structure and control their lives while they're here," she said. "But it's not punitive, it's not harsh."

Correctional experts from as far away as Germany have come to inspect the facility and learn from its success.

But the centre also dealt with controversy and criticism when two inmates escaped on its first day of operation and, more recently, when it was temporarily closed because of the presence of mould.

Before the provincial election was called, Mr. Dunlop said he encouraged then-minister of corrections Bob Runciman to expand the facility.

He said he will fight to keep Project Turnaround open when the provincial legislature convenes on Nov. 24.

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