It’s about time this province had new prison facilities: there have been calls for change for years and the provincial government has tried to interest its federal counterparts in taking part in new construction for just as long.
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary — parts of which have been in place since 1859 — is overcrowded, well past its “best-before” date and, quite simply, no longer suitable to hold prisoners.
But anyone thinking that there might actually be a change in the province’s penal system should probably be looking a long way down the road — perhaps as long as a decade.
Because Monday’s announcement by Justice Minister Darin King that the province would now go it alone and build a facility was just the very beginning; there’s not even a budget amount the minister can talk about yet, nor a location, and the announcement was of a “request for proposals” to begin the planning process.
And getting to an actual structure can take years.
Take a look at the planning for the new Corner Brook hospital and you can see just how long something can be strung out. There have been 12 separate announcements since the project was first announced in 2007.
Here are the ones from 2013 alone:
“March 7: Program Report for Corner Brook Hospital Received and Under Review,” which includes “The master program report for the new Corner Brook hospital, which will support the finalization of the design for the new facility, was received yesterday from Stantec and is currently under review by the Provincial Government.”
“March 19: Media Advisory: Premier to Make Pre-Budget Announcement Regarding New Corner Brook Hospital.”
“March 20: Premier Announces $227 Million for New Hospital in Corner Brook.”
At that point, the premier announced the government had spent $20 million already.
Those looking for a hospital, though, would realize there’s still a big difference between the latest report and an actual structure. It’s worth considering that the new hospital was announced in 2007, but it took two years to even decide on a site — and that it took then-premier Danny Williams and two cabinet ministers to travel to Corner Brook just to announce they’d picked the place the hospital would sit.
In other words, there’s years of slips twixt cup and lip. And right now, when it comes to a prison, the government is very much shooting from the lip. Announcements are easy; the road to a new prison is far, far longer.
And, for anyone who thinks that the whole event was just a salvo for the upcoming byelection in Jerome Kennedy’s district, consider this: the town of Harbour Grace kept a sign up for years that said it had been selected as the site for a new federal penitentiary, the result of a federal election promise. The penitentiary never did arrive.
You would think that an announcement of prison construction might make residents in that area think, once bitten, twice shy.