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Camp gets boot-Jail closing stuns staff, parents

By Ian McDougall
Toronto Sun
Sat, November 29, 2003

Ontario's only private,boot-camp-style jail for youths has been shut down and emptied with two months still remaining on its contract

The 16 youths at Project Turnaround were shipped out to other institutions yesterday morning -- a day after Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said the contract would not be renewed. The mother of one of the boys in Project Turnaround called The Toronto Sun yesterday, upset the program was gone but also furious because she felt she'd been lied to when Kwinter publicly stated that the program was under review and was not about to be shut down.

"It's been successful. Why close it down?" she said. "And why lie about it?"

Her son, serving a sentence for robbery, cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Project Turnaround, located near Midland, was the province's only stand-alone, privately run, strict-discipline facility for young offenders.

Kwinter said Wednesday he was considering whether or not the boot camp's contract should be renewed. On Thursday he told the legislature the contract, which expires Jan. 31, would not be renewed. There was no announcement that it would be closed yesterday morning. Kwinter told The Sun yesterday the decision to remove the youths was made by ministry staff and administration at Project Turnaround.


The decision to close the facility was made during a Wednesday cabinet meeting, he said, adding closing the facility yesterday did not require his approval so no announcement was made. He said administrators at the camp were informed Wednesday after the cabinet meeting.

"They would certainly have heard by Wednesday," he said.

MPP Garfield Dunlop, an outspoken supporter of Project Turnaround, said the closing smacks of an election payback. The facility is in the Conservative MPP's riding. He added there was no indication given Thursday in the legislature the facility was to be closed immediately.

"They never even had the common courtesy to call (director Sally Walker)," Dunlop said. "It's a disgrace. This is an example of (Premier Dalton) McGuinty paying back his union leader bosses.
He's gotten rid of these jobs. This is a very effective program." Kwinter denied there were any promises made to unions to close the facility.

"It made no economic sense," he said.

Walker said the first she was told the project might be cancelled was during a phone call from a reporter Wednesday. She said there were other calls from ministry staff but nothing definite until Thursday when she found out the camp would be emptied yesterday, she said.

"Of course I'm annoyed," Walker said. "It's very important our staff and our cadets are treated in a respectful manner." The youths at the jail were loaded into vans and taken to other institutions yesterday. Some lunches made earlier by the teens were left behind.

Walker said she hasn't been told what will be done about the remaining two months on the contract. Kwinter said yesterday that it will be honoured.

The mother of the former boot camp participant says she's worried about her boy's future. One of the things she said she liked about the camp was the low rate of recidivism by graduates.

"They have a 20% higher success rate," she said, adding her son has been in trouble with the law since he was 17.

"That extra 20% that do better means the world to me. He has a 20% better chance of not (reoffending.)" Kwinter said the project costs the province $2.5 million a year and did not have enough inmates to justify the expense -- a claim denied by Walker.

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