Closures move province closer to flawed US model of superjails.
Toronto (17 May 2011) - Activists in the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) are at the forefront of a campaign to prevent the closure of three community based correctional facilities.
The McGuinty government announced the closure of jails in Walkerton, Owen Sound and Sarnia in its March 29 budget. The government claims that this is part of modernizing the province's correctional system.
But critics point out that these facilities are cost-efficient and provide an important resource to their communities. It will also constitute another blow to small communities already feeling the aftermath of the recent recession.
Many see this as moving the province closer to the flawed US model of superjails.
Decision made without consultation - significant impact on workers and community
Members of the affected communities are upset that the decision to close down the jails was made by the Ministry of Finance without consulting key stakeholders, including the front-line professional staff who operate these facilities. Also affected are local lawyers, mental health workers, probation and parole officers, aboriginal support groups and local suppliers.
In a joint letter to affected members, OPSEU/NUPGE President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Dan Sidsworth, Chair of OPSEU Corrections MERC, point out that:
None of these closures make any fiscal or logical sense. For instance, Owen Sound and Walkerton both operate close to their budgets. These facilities serve a vital role in their communities, providing well-paying jobs to boost the local economy. Inmates housed in these facilities receive local support and services from their home community and family members.
There is also a major issue with transportation. Round trips to take inmates from Penetanguishene to courts in Owen Sound and Walkerton will take four and six hours respectively. Sarnia to Windsor and back will easily take six hours. In the winter, these trips will be on roads that are some of the worst in Ontario for snow, ice and closures.
Dozens of correctional service workers and their families in Walkerton and Owen Sound will be adversely affected. Some will be forced to quit their careers. More than $6 million will be lost in local economies. Again, rural Ontario is under attack by decisions reached at Queen’s Park.
Move will hamper efforts to rehabilitate inmates
James Clancy, national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), has also expressed concern over the impact this move will have on the inmates of these facilities.
In a letter to the Premier he wrote that "this is going to have a large detrimental impact on the inmates in these facilities. In many instances they will be removed from their home communities to be placed in one of these new Superjails. For some this will mean reduced contact with their families. It will also hamper efforts to rehabilitate these inmates."
Clancy appreciates the growing pressure that the federal government's tough on crime agenda has placed on provinces but sees this move as counterproductive.
He says that "the way to deal with this crisis is not impose further hardship on the workers of the system and the communities they live in. It is also counterproductive to implement changes that will do nothing to reduce crime in our communities."
Campaign gaining momentum
Launched at the OPSEU/NUPGE Convention, the Save Our Jails! campaign enjoys considerable support in the communities and is being felt by local Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs).
Already, successful pickets were held out the offices of Carol Mitchell, MPP for Huron-Bruce as well as a lobby of Queens Park and large community information events.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE