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Don't renew jail contract, petition reads

by Kim Goggins
The Mirror
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

A petition will soon be delivered to Queen's Park asking that Premier Dalton McGuinty publicly promise to not renew the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) contract at the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) in Penetanguishene.

Sharon Dion, chairperson of Citizens Against Private Prisons, has created a petition that cites alleged issues at the jail, including lack of food, clothing and medical care, insufficient staffing levels; and MTC's exemption from paying the Town of Penetanguishene business taxes.

She expects about 15,000 signatures once the petition becomes available electronically. She plans to give the petition to Brant Liberal MPP Dave Levac - a vocal opponent of private prisons - in March so he can present it in the Ontario Legislature.

McGuinty made promise not to renew jail contract at Penetanguishene Council

When then-Opposition leader McGuinty visited Penetanguishene Council with Levac, before the jail was open, he promised that a Liberal government would not renew the contract with Utah-based MTC. "We are trying to draw the attention of the Liberal government so that they keep their promise," Dion said. "That's the ultimate goal."

Dion says she has received calls of support from correctional officers at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay and the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton which are publicly-operated.

"MTC has committed to not only the community at large but to the safety of that community and that's our priority, and will remain our priority," said CNCC communications director Peter Mount, noting that the jail has a policy of not responding to activities of special-interest groups.

"Any issues that Ms. Dion has had, the opportunity has been available for her to bring them forward to the ministry and to us directly."

There is one year left of the province's current five-year contract with MTC but as per contract stipulations, the government must decide, by May 2006, whether to extend the contract for another year; extend the contract up to five years, based on an agreement of financial terms; re-tender the contract or return the prison to the public service.

The contract decision-making process has begun. MTC will be rated in four key areas: effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and viability into the future; and relevance to the community.

Consultants from the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) have also interviewed people from key groups to ensure the information the government has about CNCC is accurate. At the same time, the province is conducting a comparison study between the publicly-operated CECC in Lindsay and CNCC.

Dion is concerned that, on paper, it may look as though it costs less to run a prison privately in Ontario but she says there are many issues to consider.

"They can fudge the numbers in any way to make the books look really good," she said, noting that the numbers might show an eight to 10 per cent difference between the public and private prisons.

"Also, what's not included in the per diem rate is all of the hidden costs of prison privatization, like ambulance and hospital costs, escorts, and lawsuits that some inmates and their families have against MTC, First Correctional Medical and the Province of Ontario, in the case of Jeffrey Elliott's death."

Not everyone agrees that Canada's first privately-run prison has been a failed experiment.

Several members of Penetanguishene council have told The Mirror they have no problems with MTC as an operator.

"Other than the tax issue, we have no problem with them as corporate citizens," said Penetanguishene Coun. Dan La Rose, referring to about $1 million the municipality would receive annually if the for-profit company wasn't exempt from paying business tax. Instead it pays the "in-lieu" rate of $75 per head afforded public institutions, such as hospitals and schools. "With (MTC) being the operator, I have no problems with that."

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