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Too early to rule on for-profit jail

Mar. 6, 2003

Complaints about prison life are not uncommon. After all, a stretch inside isn't supposed to be a picnic. But a jail term isn't supposed to present serious health risks, and according to a local doctor, it is at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.

Dr. Martin McNamara, chief of the emergency department at Huronia District Hospital, has spoken publicly about inmates' health problems, that he encounters daily. They include patients arriving at the hospital in pain because they haven't received proper pain medication, or with physical conditions that have worsened because timely treatment wasn't provided.

The doctor said his department has treated inmates with infected wounds and fractured bones that hadn't been X-rayed or set properly.

The health of inmates, said McNamara, has been put at risk because of the medical care they receive at the jail in Penetanguishene.

The doctor's comments arrive as the jail faces a barrage of criticism from other areas, ranging from complaints about small food servings to violence inside the jail. No doubt they'll be seized on by critics of the province's first for-profit prison experiment.

And so they should. However, it's too early to say the experiment is a failed venture. Serious concerns are being raised, which demand resolution. What's needed now is a commitment from the jail's operators to address and fix these problems, and close observation from the province to ensure standards are being met.

Critics of the jail have long said a for-profit model won't work in Ontario, because the operator would have to cut corners in order to 'turn a buck.' The accuracy of that opinion remains to be seen, but if it is true, it's possible the decision to pull the plug on the for-profit trial would be made by the jail's managers, in this case the American-based company, Management and Training Corporation Canada.

If a profit can't be made by maintaining the standards set and enforced by the province, then it's reasonable to assume the 'business' won't be continued. No business stays in business if it's losing money.

Ultimately, the rules of the market may determine the fate of Ontario's first for-profit jail.

2003 Midland Free Press

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