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Future of CNCC decided in May
Friday, April 21, 2006

Local News - Officials with the Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections Services won't say what plans are in store for Canada's first privately operated adult prison, but it appears the future of Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene should be clear by the end of May.

Management and Training Corporation's five-year contract with the ministry to operate the prison expires in November. According to the ministry, the current deal requires that the province inform MTC of its intentions six months prior to the contract ending. That means a decision on whether to keep operating the facility privately or turn it over to the province should be delivered by the end of next month.

The province is tight-lipped about its plans at the moment.

"No comment. When a decision has been made, we will communicate it," was all ministry spokesperson Andrew Hilton would offer.

According to Penetanguishene resident Sharon Dion of Citizens Against Privatized Prisons, a source in the ministry has told her "a decision will be made within the first two weeks of May" and that "the comparison is being done right now" regarding the private prison in Penetanguishene and the public one in Lindsay.

"I've been told that a decision should be made by mid-May," Simcoe North MPP and Conservative Corrections Critic Garfield Dunlop told the Free Press. "The government will make some type of decision."

MTC began running the so-called superjail in 2001 and soon after, its physical twin, the Central East Correctional Centre, opened as a public prison. The idea was to compare CNCC and CECC on cost and performance over five years.

As a possible decision lingers, CNCC spokesperson Peter Mount said MTC hasn't yet heard if the province plans to extend the corporation's contract, take the reigns, or re-tender the facility.

"The discussions regarding the extension of a the contract are ongoing between the ministry and ourselves. We've had a very good relationship with the province and we want to continue on," said Mount.

Ultimately, he added, until a decision is made, MTC will continue to focus on its priorities.

"Our priority is making sure everyone is kept safe and educated. Our job is the inmates."

But Dion, who is also a member of an anti-privatized prisons institute based in Florida, said private jails aren't safe and are self-serving.

"If they go to an Americanized system, Canadian values will be jeopardized. They don't want to rehabilitate. It's a revolving door and that keeps (MTC) multi-millionaires at the expense of human life."

Mount conceded there have been glitches since MTC took control of the superjail but any problems arising have simply been as a result of "the nature of the business".

"There are situations that arise that have to arise. Ultimately, a facility this large is like a community. Unfortunately, things do happen, but we do get alot of positive feedback."

He pointed to the charity work being done in the community and the jobs the facility has supplied as highlights.

"The majority of staff are from this area and we're very proud of that. This was a learning curve for everyone, but we have set the bar really high."

It's not known how much money the privately operated facility has saved the province but Dunlop expects that figure is in the millions.

"It looks like it has saved a substantial amount of money. Even if you fudge the numbers, it looks like it's saving a good amount."

He added he'll support any direction the province takes on the jail's future and added it will come down to Premier Dalton McGuinty following through with an election promise to turn the jail public.

"It's up to McGuinty to make his decision. McGuinty said he'd make the jail public and I'm assuming he'll keep his promise."

And Dion, who has been fighting to have the private tag torn off the jail for years, wants nothing less than that.

"It will be a triumphant day when the Liberal government makes the right decision. The Liberal government seems to be listening (lately) and people from Queen's Park have called me, so that's a good indication they're listening."

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