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Inmate criticizes time in super jail

by Roberta Avery Special to the Toronto Star
Mar. 5, 2003

Murray Robinson has seen the inside of a jail cell on more than one occasion, but it's the time he spent in Ontario's first and only privately-run jail that's the stuff of his nightmares.

"People treat their dogs better than that," said Robinson, 47, of Barrie, who was released from Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene on Jan. 16, after serving seven months of an 11-month sentence for impaired driving.

Robinson, who says his criminal record relates to drunk driving charges, had previously served time in the publicly-run provincial jails in Brampton and Barrie, so he was initially pleased to be sent to Ontario's so-called super jail.

But when he arrived at the seven-month-old provincial incarceration centre last June 16, he said he realized that things in a jail run for profit would be very different.

"I'm a big man. I like to eat. But the food was no good and the portions were minuscule. I went to bed hungry every night I was there," said Robinson, who worked for Molson Breweries in Barrie for 20 years until it closed down four years ago.

"They call three leaves of wilted lettuce a salad. They're cutting corners to make money at the inmate's expense," he said, comparing the food to what he has eaten in publicly-run jails, where it is plain but plentiful and well prepared.

Doug Thomson, who has been running the super jail for U.S.-based Management Training Company since it opened just over a year ago, said in an interview last week that, like the medical and educational services offered at the jail, food supply is contracted out.

"The food meets the standards of our contract and addresses the dietary needs of the inmates," Thomson said.

But it was the lack of medical care that really worried Robinson. (See related story on page 1.)

Shortly after being jailed, he said his ankles swelled so much that the prison shackles would no longer close - due, he believes, to walking on a concrete floor in flat shoes. "I asked to see a doctor, but it took two weeks before I got to see anyone."

Dr. Martin McNamara, who heads the emergency department of nearby Huronia District Hospital, said last week that delays in medical treatment at the jail were putting the health of some inmates at risk.

MPP David Levac, the MPP for Brant and Liberal prisons critic who visited the super jail recently, wants a public inquiry into what he calls the "scandalous" situation surrounding health care at the jail.

"There's more than enough concern for a public inquiry to be called," said Levac after meeting with Sharon Storring.

Storring was so outraged at her son's treatment during more than five months he spent in lockdown at the super jail, awaiting trial, that she formed Families Against Private Prisons' Abuse (FAPPA).

Her son arrived at the jail with instructions from his surgeon that his dressings be changed every day. By the time the dressing was changed six days later, infection had set in, Storring said.

"My son's life was put at risk."

Since forming FAPPA in November, Storring has heard from more than 25 inmates who claim they have been denied medical attention.

Bob Runciman, minister of public safety and security, has not responded to several newspaper requests for him to address the super jail controversy.

During the strike last year by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, John Kolakowski, 33, of Toronto was transferred to the super jail from the jail in Windsor, Ont., where he was serving a 90-day sentence for assault.

He said staffing levels at the super jail put his life at risk.

Torstar News Service

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