When federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais announced the closure of two federal, mainland prisons due to their age and lack of modern features, it raised eyebrows in this province, where a replacement to Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP) in St. John's has been sought for years.
Toews and Dagenais announced Thursday the planned closure of Kingston Penitentiary and Leclerc prison, near Montreal. They pointed to the facilities as being outdated and increasingly inappropriate for housing prisoners.
Toews told reporters Kingston Pen has few of the open sight lines and other security features. He said the antiquated layout is hard on guards.
"Institutions built in the 19th century are not appropriate for managing a 21st-century inmate population," he said.
"These are aging facilities with infrastructure that does not lend itself well to the challenges of managing the institutional routines of today's complex offender population," a Correctional Service Canada rep told The Telegram.
Kingston Penitentiary, the country's oldest penal institution, dates to 1835. Leclerc, near Montreal, opened in 1961.
Comments made about the facilities echo those made for years now about HMP - constructed more than 150 years ago, with additions built in the 1940s and the 1980s. The prison is a provincial facility, but houses some federal prisoners.
"When I hear Vic Toews' comment about a 19th century institution not being able to manage a 21st century population, he just hit the nail right on the head," Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said Friday.
"What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for something bad to happen?
"I guess my bigger point is that no doubt the feds have a responsibility here, you know. HMP houses federal inmates, but given the comments coming from Vic Toews, I think we are dreaming if we think they are going to contribute any money to us."
Federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers is an ombudsman working on behalf of federal inmates, investigating complaints across the country. Sapers told The Telegram there has been a scattering of complaints from federal inmates at HMP, but relating to a variety of topics, from conditions of their confinement to access to health care.
"Quite honestly, we get very few from the federally placed offenders at the penitentiary there," he said.
Yet, "that facility is well-known in Canada as a very old facility and certainly I'm aware of the discussion that goes back, probably as long as I've been involved in corrections, about whether it should be replaced or not and what it should be replaced with," said Sapers, who has been in his role since 2004.
"I would hope the provincial government is working hard on this," provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael said.
She said she is not saying she believes there is no discussion happening between the province and the federal government regarding HMP. However, "when you're not hearing anything, it puts fear in you there's nothing going on."
Michael said she sees HMP as a poor facility in terms of functionality, with little room to work.
That affects inmates at the prison, she said, but also their families and prison staff.
Director of the non-profit group Turnings, Ron Fitzpatrick, said he does not believe the federal government is respecting prisoners here.
"The facility itself is ancient," he said of HMP, adding he feels a federal contribution should be made towards constructing a new prison.
To date, the province has said it can't go it alone on a new facility.
"The province of Newfoundland and Labrador believes the federal government should provide funding towards the capital costs of building a replacement for Her Majesty's Penitentiary as the province does house some federal inmates," provincial Justice Minister Felix Collins said in a statement.
"In light of this announcement by the federal government (Thursday), the provincial government is looking at its options, including the housing of federal prisoners."
A request was made for clarification on the minister's statement, but The Telegram was told none could be provided.
Meanwhile, the Correctional Service of Canada, in response to questions, stated the province was "given sole jurisdiction to determine the placement of federally sentenced offenders from the province" when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.