The root of the problem

Alisha Morrissey & James McLeod
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HMP is old, drafty and dirty, but there are no plans to replace it Last in a four-part series

Last in a four-part series
While the Decades of Darkness prison report didn't specifically recommend it, anyone who's familiar with this province's corrections system says only one thing will truly make things much better.

Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP) needs to go. The province needs a new prison.

But one year after the review of the prison system called HMP "horrendous," the province is farther than ever from getting a new facility.

No one's arguing that Her Majesty's Penitentiary isn't an antiquated facility that needs to be replaced, but this province won't be building another prison any time soon. - Telegram file photo

Last in a four-part series

While the Decades of Darkness prison report didn't specifically recommend it, anyone who's familiar with this province's corrections system says only one thing will truly make things much better.

Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP) needs to go. The province needs a new prison.

But one year after the review of the prison system called HMP "horrendous," the province is farther than ever from getting a new facility.

While a new prison isn't one of the report's 77 recommendations, the document strongly pushes for a new prison.

"The panel believes there is an urgent need to move forward (with a new prison)," the report states, "in order to provide a humane, safe environment for both correctional staff and inmates."

Not without the feds

As recently as July, then-justice minister Tom Marshall told The Telegram that if the federal government refused to cost-share a new prison, the province would go it alone.

But within days of taking over the portfolio in October, Justice Minister Felix Collins was singing a different tune about HMP, saying "we're stuck with it."

Now that Ottawa has definitively refused to cost-share a new jail, Collins has declared that the project is simply too big to go it alone.

Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has refused to speak to The Telegram, despite repeated requests for an interview.

In an e-mailed statement from Van Loan's spokesman, Chris McCluskey, the minister said. "As this is a provincial facility, the prison and its future are entirely the responsibility of the province."

It's a facility Collins himself has called "woefully inadequate."

In the past year, the government has spent $7 million on improvements to the prison system - work the government argues would have needed to be done even if HMP was brand new.

"Even if we had a new facility promised tomorrow, it would still be five years, six years before the door would be opened," he said.

Liberal justice critic Kelvin Parsons disagrees with that assessments, saying that until the province builds a new prison, putting money into HMP is futile.

"If you're never going to replace that old, antiquated prison, anything that you pump in there is only a Band-Aid," he said.

The crux of the problem

HMP is by far the province's biggest prison, and there is a widespread belief that until it is replaced, the prison system can never be truly fixed.

"There's a root cause here, and it's not to the fault of anybody down there in that system trying to make it work, or even government trying to do the best," said St. John's lawyer Bob Simmonds.

"The root cause is that antiquated dump of a prison.

"You cannot go about fundamental change from the top down, you have to go from the bottom up, and the foundation."

It's unclear how much a new prison would cost.

Collins said the estimate is $100 million, but cautioned that figure is several years old.

Nova Scotia announced earlier this month that it would build a 100-cell provincial facility for around $31 million.

HMP houses about 170 inmates.

The cramped and dated facility makes correctional officers' jobs more difficult.

HMP's original building was built 150 years ago, and additions were built in the 1940s and the 1980s.

The maze-like layout of the facility makes it a difficult and sometimes dangerous environment for guards to work in.

"It's a scary position," said Susan Clarkin, an instructor at Holland College's correctional officer training program in P.E.I. "It's kind of tough putting these young kids out in the field and (wondering) what kind of institutions are they going to be working in. We feel we're preparing them the best we can."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Holland College, Band-Aid

Geographic location: Ottawa, St. John's, Nova Scotia P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • TaxWatch
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    To: My 2 cents....Right On !!!

  • Fed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Why don't they just tear the pen down and we can house prisnors at the Battery Hotel. This way we can be sure they have all the comforts of home, cable TV, saunas, pool everything. Make them so happy and content that they won't want to leave. If they get out of line we can cut off their happy hour privilages, or would that consitute cruel and unusual punishment. I mean we don't want these pillars of society to feel like they did something wrong and are being punished.

  • BrenD
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Build it and they will come we else are the Feds going to house more inmates from NF. With no Federal Pen we can house them under our terms of Union and have them pay the cost of housing. It cost more to house a Federal Inmate than a Provincial one. As for Kelvin Parsons suggesting that putting money into HMP is a waste, what does he suggest they do while the walls come crumbling down. Maybe he should set up a camp ground and house them in tents like the Boy Scouts.

  • my 2 cents
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    First of all Kelvin Parsons was the minister of justice years ago when the offficers went on a wildcat strike due to poor pay ,working conditions ,safety etc... He said that the place was fine then and ignored the pleas of officers,councillors,lawyers etc... He is one of the reasons HMP is such a dump today due to his negligence and Tobins arrogance. As for Susan Clarkin - she has no affiliation with HMP at all so how can she even comment on this story. Go to the front line workers for the real story. Ask their union reps whats going on down there not someone in PEI? Your report only touches the surface , how about doing a report on lack of safety equipment for staff inside the prison, assaults on staff , violence at the pen, how much drugs is there and how many weapons are found every week. The real prison stories are at HMP not in PEI!

  • TaxWatch
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    To: My 2 cents....Right On !!!

  • Fed
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Why don't they just tear the pen down and we can house prisnors at the Battery Hotel. This way we can be sure they have all the comforts of home, cable TV, saunas, pool everything. Make them so happy and content that they won't want to leave. If they get out of line we can cut off their happy hour privilages, or would that consitute cruel and unusual punishment. I mean we don't want these pillars of society to feel like they did something wrong and are being punished.

  • BrenD
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    Build it and they will come we else are the Feds going to house more inmates from NF. With no Federal Pen we can house them under our terms of Union and have them pay the cost of housing. It cost more to house a Federal Inmate than a Provincial one. As for Kelvin Parsons suggesting that putting money into HMP is a waste, what does he suggest they do while the walls come crumbling down. Maybe he should set up a camp ground and house them in tents like the Boy Scouts.

  • my 2 cents
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    First of all Kelvin Parsons was the minister of justice years ago when the offficers went on a wildcat strike due to poor pay ,working conditions ,safety etc... He said that the place was fine then and ignored the pleas of officers,councillors,lawyers etc... He is one of the reasons HMP is such a dump today due to his negligence and Tobins arrogance. As for Susan Clarkin - she has no affiliation with HMP at all so how can she even comment on this story. Go to the front line workers for the real story. Ask their union reps whats going on down there not someone in PEI? Your report only touches the surface , how about doing a report on lack of safety equipment for staff inside the prison, assaults on staff , violence at the pen, how much drugs is there and how many weapons are found every week. The real prison stories are at HMP not in PEI!