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MPP has more questions after visit to Penetanguishene jail

Janis Leering
The Mirror
Feb. 28, 2003

It's still too early to tell if having private prisons in Ontario is going to work, said Brant MPP Dave Levac.

But he already has a good idea that the one in Penetanguishene isn't working, based on what he has seen and heard about the jail.

Levac is the Liberal public safety and security critic with the province, and he took a tour of the Penetanguishene jail on Tuesday morning.

"I can't make a decision about it yet, it's only been operating for a short time," said Levac.

"We can say they don't work in the rest of the world. (Private prison operators) are just like locusts eating grain. They move on when the grain is gone. In this case, the grain is money."

Levac said he stopped by to check on the health conditions of the inmates, along with the physical state of the building itself.

He also wanted to ask a few questions to Doug Thomson, facility administrator.

As an MPP, Levac said he has the ability to tour the jail at any time, and out of courtesy, he gave the jail advanced warning he was coming.

He had questions about the medical treatment of inmates, and about the riot that happened in September.

"I haven't been given any answer about the riot, we are still waiting for a report. I want to know how much it has cost, and if the ministry will be getting the bill."

Inmates with mental health problems are not being given proper medications, believes Levac, and he said more communication is needed.

"A communication process needs to be established. Inmates with mental health problems are not on their medication, which is probably what landed them in jail in the first place."

He said inmates who are on specific medications are not told if their medication is changed.

"There is more of a concern in Penetanguishene, because it is based on cost-cutting. Inmates are either given a cheaper medication, or aren't given anything."

He is challenging administration at the jail to be more open with communication.

"Whenever there is a jail in a community, there is a bubble around all that is happening at that jail. Most people don't want to know anything, until it is one of their own who is in there."

Levac believes inmates should be held accountable for their criminal actions, but they should not be paying the price with sacrificing health care.

"This is the Ministry of Corrections, not the ministry of punishment."

He warned that if the situation doesn't improve, there will be an even bigger riot.

"Two of the pods are still in a lockdown, and sooner or later that idea doesn't work. You have to make sure the correctional officers run the facility, not the inmates.

"But having them in a lockdown only creates bigger problems down the road."

He said the situation at the jail has to improve, or there could be trouble when the inmates are released.

"If you keep someone like a caged dog for two years, they are going to come out angry."

On a positive note, Levac said he has seen physical improvements to the building since he visited a year ago.

"Some were corrections I pointed out. One example is there were gooseneck faucets, and I said if I were strong enough, I could break it off and use it as a weapon."

Levac said the taps are now push button.

"In the visitors' section, there was a 32-inch railing along the top. They must've forgotten we are in a jail, and someone could be pushed over."

So another 30 inches has been added to the railing.

Similar features have been used at the facility in Lindsay, which recently opened, and now holds 30 inmates.

"Two of the pods are still in a lockdown, and sooner or later that idea doesn't work ... having them in a lockdown only

creates bigger problems down the road."

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