Time for corrections

Alisha Morrissey & James McLeod
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A year after a review of prisons was published, there's been sweeping reform, but most agree what's needed most is a new penitentiary

The prison system in this province has seen unprecedented reform in the past year.

But despite all the work by the government, service organizations and the people working within the system, they will all admit there's a lot left to do.

Most of the change was prompted by a report entitled Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards The Light, which made 77 strongly-worded recommendations.

This aerial photo of Her Majestys Penitentiary shows the lot on Quidi Vidi Lake on May 29, 2008, before office trailers were installed in the prison yard. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Johns

The prison system in this province has seen unprecedented reform in the past year.

But despite all the work by the government, service organizations and the people working within the system, they will all admit there's a lot left to do.

Most of the change was prompted by a report entitled Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards The Light, which made 77 strongly-worded recommendations.

One year ago this week, the government accepted the report and immediately began implementing the recommendations.

This week, Justice Minister Felix Collins told The Telegram the government has spent $7 million on the prison system in the past year, and has done at least some work on 73 of the recommendations.

But St. John's lawyer Bob Simmonds says all the good intentions in the world won't make a difference at the province's main prison.

He and many others contacted about prison reform for this series insisted that the biggest change that needs to happen in this province's correctional system is replacing Her Majesty's Penitentiary (HMP)

"I don't think Christ himself could come to Earth and fix that place," Simmonds says. "I don't care if you go in there with a power washer, you can't clean that place up."

The people who live and work in the prison have been told that, for now, they will have to make do with the building they have.

The inside perspective

Prisoners have noticed changes since the report was released.

"Just about all of the cells, as far as I know, there's contractors in taking the old gyproc off," acknowledged Albert Power, who's serving time for armed robbery.

Power knows a thing or two about prisons, given his more than 100 convictions and time served both here and on the mainland. He says the prison system here is "catching up" to the rest of Canada.

The prison menu, for example, has gotten better and more nutritious.

"The food is really good here - the food is the best here now of all the joints I've done time in in Canada," Power says.

He also says the new psychologist hired for HMP - part of a larger mental-health strategy - has been well-received.

And with more corrections officers, Power says inmates are getting regular recreation - which makes a huge difference in morale.

However, HMP remains overcrowded, dirty, drafty and bug-infested in places, and despite increases in programming, there's not enough to meet the need.

"It's still crowded; five cells on each range are double-bunked, and I think they'd all be double-bunked if they could get the fire regulations somehow (waived)," Power says. "A lot of guys, it's strongly suggested if their security level is down to a certain number that they go to Bishop's Falls or Stephenville."

The will to change

Nearly everyone involved in the prison system knows most taxpayers would rather see their money put into hospitals than prisons.

"I don't think the prison situation and the correctional system in the province really ranks high in terms of in terms of things that upset people," said Liberal justice critic Kelvin Parsons.

Which is why most of these reforms have happened beyond the spotlight of public scrutiny.

"The common citizen, Joe Smith, if I go to the bar and have a beer tonight, Joe Smith doesn't know about the pen. 'They're crooks down there, you know,'" Simmonds says. "This is not pleasant stuff."

But it's stuff that needs to be done, the justice minister says.

"As a government, we have a responsibility to provide services, and the ... correctional service is something we are responsible for," Collins says.

"I think if we took that attitude, we wouldn't build any recreational facilities either. There's more to enhancing conditions down there than capital infrastructure. There's programming and training and a whole host of services that we have to enhance and improve in order to accomplish our goals down there."

amorrissey@thetelegram.com
jmcleod@thetelegram.com

In October, the Telegram asked for an update on each of the 77 recommendations contained in the prison report Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards the Light. The Justice Department provided a seven-page response, outlining the work that has been done in the past year. Without addressing specific recommendations, the response dealt with improvements and new initiatives under a variety of headings. The full response can be found here.

Organizations: The Light, Justice Department

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's, Stephenville

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • LittlegirlfromtheEast
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    I think they should keep that place as nasty as they say it is.....THAT might discourage the criminals from going back there OR getting there in the first place....REALLY?? Our seniors have no place to go and out government is worried about the comfort of our inmates...unbelievable!

  • TaxWatch
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Heartless goon steals senior's purse
    Befriends woman, 81, before knocking her down, grabbing cash

    This is front page news item that happened in Toronto yesterday. We must ensure this GOON get good food, recreational activities, medical care etc....well the old lady.....who cares about her situation? News Reporter of the Tele are more concerned for the GOONS

  • TaxWatch
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    It's good to see the Lakeside Resort serves the best food in all of Canada: and they have excellent recreational facilities, medical benefits. How many years do they have to serve before they get a decent pension? They get better health care services than any of us; they do not wait 5 hours to see a doctor.

    These guests of the Lake side Resort are scumbags and treat them accordingly. Make then think about coming back for a second visit; not 100 visits!

    Does this reporter have a friend or family member at the resort? Get on with reporting on issues that the hard working, tax paying public cares about.

  • mainlander
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Does fixing it up and providing good food ( The food is really good here - the food is the best here now of all the joints I've done time in in Canada, ) give some of them reason to want to come back? I don't think they should have to live like dogs down there but the focus needs to be on rehabilitation so they don't end up back there, not turning it into an all-inclusive resort.

  • DEE GEE
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    I guess we'll all have to anti up and give them what they want . Remember the old saying? The worst you are the better you're treated.So keep it up , the stealing and the rest of it, and you'll get your five star hotel.

  • IgnoranceInNewfoundland
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    The name speaks for itself. For those who think they are being witty and are uneducated in the justice system, No, I do not have a relative, friend or acquaintance in HMP. Lets hope with the attitude you have that you never do.

  • As It Is
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Here is a good idea to keep criminals off the streets: Make HMP just like a five-star hotel. The criminals would not want to leave HMP and live amoung us. But, this might just cause more crime since when the criminals get out they are going to have to reoffend to get back in.

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Teach the boys how to knit, let them sell cuffs to the tourists and when they earn enough to build a new pen, do so then. Oh wait, ya can't trust the boys with a needle. Finally nice to see that the government is starting to understand that taxpayers care very little about prison systems, don't make it too comfortable because they wont want to leave. If you want to spend my tax money on something start by improving the lives of the general public, i.e. healthcare, schools, snow clearing, things that actually matter to the people that are paying the taxes

  • UNCOMMON
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I use to have very little compassion for the criminal element. Matter of fact I spent a good portion of my life locking up societies less desirables. As I think back I realize that many of the people who I watched booked and processed were more often than not products of societys failures; broken homes, bad choices, drugs, alcohol, poverty, desperation, and poor decisions. All these factors combined with a broken spirit and society giving up on them at some point along the way.

    The interesting thing is many of us who are cross carrying Christians gloss right over Gods command for us to love others as ourselves. At many times in all ways of worship we offer prayers for prisoners. Simply housing inmates in substandard conditions and then gloating about the lot getting what they deserve for breaking our civil laws is not acceptable. Sounds great to put them away and forget them. Well, until the day they get out in worse shape than when they went in. Are any groups participating in prison ministry here?

  • confused
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    why is it when there is talk about the pen it comes from people who never step inside the place,,,,,typically govt i guess tell the public what they want to hear,,,,,,i have a friend who is a correctional officer at the pen i ask him what the place is like,is it as bad as what they say,,,his respone is always i cant say i could be fired if i talk about it???????so i say to the media if you want the truth about the place ask the men and women who risk there physical and mental healths each day.... yes the Correctional Officers, dont ask the puppets/upper management or justice officals, if these correctional officers are at risk of being fired then take there story and block there name they do it for sex offenders!!

  • Ashamedfrom NL
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I am so appalled at the comments made here concerning the people of the Penitentiary. It is time for Newfoundlanders to show some compassion towards the inmates in HMP. Newfoundlanders are known all over the world as friendly and caring people. What some of the readers need to realize is that the inmates know they have committed crimes and I am sure they aware they are there for something they have done against the law. Please God you all are never in the situation to have to be incarcerated, either it be mistaken or not, which does happen as we all know. I agree that they deserve to be locked up for committing the crimes. Does that mean they deserve to be treated any worse than any of us? After all they are human beings (PEOPLE) just as we all are. The things that happen in a person's life molds who we are and each should not judge the other. It is time for us to come together and agree that if there is to be changes in behaviours after the inmates are released they should at least be treated as human beings while in HMP.

  • LittlegirlfromtheEast
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    I think they should keep that place as nasty as they say it is.....THAT might discourage the criminals from going back there OR getting there in the first place....REALLY?? Our seniors have no place to go and out government is worried about the comfort of our inmates...unbelievable!

  • TaxWatch
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Heartless goon steals senior's purse
    Befriends woman, 81, before knocking her down, grabbing cash

    This is front page news item that happened in Toronto yesterday. We must ensure this GOON get good food, recreational activities, medical care etc....well the old lady.....who cares about her situation? News Reporter of the Tele are more concerned for the GOONS

  • TaxWatch
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    It's good to see the Lakeside Resort serves the best food in all of Canada: and they have excellent recreational facilities, medical benefits. How many years do they have to serve before they get a decent pension? They get better health care services than any of us; they do not wait 5 hours to see a doctor.

    These guests of the Lake side Resort are scumbags and treat them accordingly. Make then think about coming back for a second visit; not 100 visits!

    Does this reporter have a friend or family member at the resort? Get on with reporting on issues that the hard working, tax paying public cares about.

  • mainlander
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Does fixing it up and providing good food ( The food is really good here - the food is the best here now of all the joints I've done time in in Canada, ) give some of them reason to want to come back? I don't think they should have to live like dogs down there but the focus needs to be on rehabilitation so they don't end up back there, not turning it into an all-inclusive resort.

  • DEE GEE
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    I guess we'll all have to anti up and give them what they want . Remember the old saying? The worst you are the better you're treated.So keep it up , the stealing and the rest of it, and you'll get your five star hotel.

  • IgnoranceInNewfoundland
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    The name speaks for itself. For those who think they are being witty and are uneducated in the justice system, No, I do not have a relative, friend or acquaintance in HMP. Lets hope with the attitude you have that you never do.

  • As It Is
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Here is a good idea to keep criminals off the streets: Make HMP just like a five-star hotel. The criminals would not want to leave HMP and live amoung us. But, this might just cause more crime since when the criminals get out they are going to have to reoffend to get back in.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Teach the boys how to knit, let them sell cuffs to the tourists and when they earn enough to build a new pen, do so then. Oh wait, ya can't trust the boys with a needle. Finally nice to see that the government is starting to understand that taxpayers care very little about prison systems, don't make it too comfortable because they wont want to leave. If you want to spend my tax money on something start by improving the lives of the general public, i.e. healthcare, schools, snow clearing, things that actually matter to the people that are paying the taxes

  • UNCOMMON
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    I use to have very little compassion for the criminal element. Matter of fact I spent a good portion of my life locking up societies less desirables. As I think back I realize that many of the people who I watched booked and processed were more often than not products of societys failures; broken homes, bad choices, drugs, alcohol, poverty, desperation, and poor decisions. All these factors combined with a broken spirit and society giving up on them at some point along the way.

    The interesting thing is many of us who are cross carrying Christians gloss right over Gods command for us to love others as ourselves. At many times in all ways of worship we offer prayers for prisoners. Simply housing inmates in substandard conditions and then gloating about the lot getting what they deserve for breaking our civil laws is not acceptable. Sounds great to put them away and forget them. Well, until the day they get out in worse shape than when they went in. Are any groups participating in prison ministry here?

  • confused
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    why is it when there is talk about the pen it comes from people who never step inside the place,,,,,typically govt i guess tell the public what they want to hear,,,,,,i have a friend who is a correctional officer at the pen i ask him what the place is like,is it as bad as what they say,,,his respone is always i cant say i could be fired if i talk about it???????so i say to the media if you want the truth about the place ask the men and women who risk there physical and mental healths each day.... yes the Correctional Officers, dont ask the puppets/upper management or justice officals, if these correctional officers are at risk of being fired then take there story and block there name they do it for sex offenders!!

  • Ashamedfrom NL
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    I am so appalled at the comments made here concerning the people of the Penitentiary. It is time for Newfoundlanders to show some compassion towards the inmates in HMP. Newfoundlanders are known all over the world as friendly and caring people. What some of the readers need to realize is that the inmates know they have committed crimes and I am sure they aware they are there for something they have done against the law. Please God you all are never in the situation to have to be incarcerated, either it be mistaken or not, which does happen as we all know. I agree that they deserve to be locked up for committing the crimes. Does that mean they deserve to be treated any worse than any of us? After all they are human beings (PEOPLE) just as we all are. The things that happen in a person's life molds who we are and each should not judge the other. It is time for us to come together and agree that if there is to be changes in behaviours after the inmates are released they should at least be treated as human beings while in HMP.