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Guarding the guards

The Toronto Star
Jan. 11, 2003.

Our country, our rules. If you want to do business here, you better get a copy of our rulebook.

That means if you are an American corporation, hired to run Ontario's first privatized jail, you should understand the rules and sensibilities in this province.

And that means you do not make people, even if they are inmates in a jail, wear badges around their necks listing whether they are white, black, hispanic or any other race.

Nor do you offer up as an excuse that that's how you run things in the prisons you manage in the U.S.

Yesterday, in light of criticism that the practice violated Ontario's Human Rights Code, the Utah-based company, Management and Training Corporation Canada, announced it would stop noting the race of inmates on photo ID tags. The company runs the so-called superjail, the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.

The company decided to end the practice after it was brought to light by a report in the Star.

But the jail has been open 14 months. Why did it take so long for someone to notice and object?

Private jails are a terrible idea. In the U.S., they have not proven to be cheaper or safer or more efficient. When the Ontario jail opened, the Corrections Ministry promised it would keep a close eye on things.

But is it? Last September, 100 inmates tried to escape. The attempt came one week after safety concerns were raised about a 50-per-cent cut in overnight guards at the facility. Even now, months later, nearly half of the jail's prisoners remain on partial lockdown.

The jail should be monitored to be sure it is run by Ontario standards. The fear is, however, the provincial government, which is keen to hand over more jails to the private sector, isn't really watching very hard.

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