HMP going coed

Overflow from women’s prison to be moved to St. John’s

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on March 1, 2016
James McLeod/The Telegram
Superintendent of prisons Owen Brophy spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon, alongside Justice Minister Andrew Parsons. Brophy said Tuesday that when women are temporarily housed at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in the coming weeks, they will be kept totally separate from male prisoners. Critics are skeptical, and say that the current scheme is a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t address the serious issues of overcrowding.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says women will be housed at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary due to an extremely unusual and unexplained spike in the number of female inmates.

But critics of the plan say the government is not addressing the root causes of crime, and may put women in danger.

Tuesday afternoon Parsons announced the government is moving to put some female inmates at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) because of overcrowding at the Clarenville Correctional Centre, the only women’s prison in the province.

Some minor renovations are being done to the intermittent unit at HMP, and up to 14 women will be moved there within a week or two.

Owen Brophy, superintendent of prisons, said that protocols are being put in place so that there will be absolutely no contact between the female inmates and the men

Both Brophy and Parsons said this arrangement will only be short-term, but how long it will last is a bit fuzzy.

“Obviously this is a short-term measure in terms of what we’re going to go and do right now,” Parsons said. “This was the best of the options that presented itself based on the fact that we’ve got a place out there that’s full and it’s a danger to our inmates and staff.”

What the government will do if the number of female inmates doesn’t drop off in the next couple months wasn’t entirely clear, when Parsons spoke to reporters late Tuesday afternoon.

He said he wasn’t sure how much this will cost, just that the costs are unavoidable.

As for the men who would normally serve weekend sentences at the intermittent unit, Brophy said that if they don’t have temporary absences (TA) approved, they will be housed elsewhere in the prison.

“Nothing will change. Every weekend an assessment will still be done on the intermittent inmates,” he said. “Anyone that’s approved for a TA will get a TA. Anyone that’s not approved will be housed either at HMP or another facility.”

Jenny Wright, executive director for the St. John’s Status of Women Council said she had concerns that the situation will be safe for the women who will be moved to HMP.

She said there have been security concerns at the prison in recent years, and guards have talked about how the facility is old and unsafe to work in.

“We’re clear that HMP is unsafe,” she said. “What really concerns me about this is that we have known that HMP has been unsafe working conditions for staff and unsafe for prisoners, and we have known that there has been overcrowding at Clarenville for women for some time.”

Moreover, Wright said that the overcrowding just deals with the symptoms of a broken criminal justice system

New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers shared that concern, saying more focus should be put on keeping women and men out of prison.

“I think moving a few women to HMP is not going to solve the problem,” Rogers said. “We have a huge problem happening that has been building, and it’s not brand new, it’s not all of a sudden.”

She pointed out that many women are in prison because of inadequate bail services, and because of a lack of drug treatment.

“The lockups are all bursting at the seams, all the prisons are bursting at the seams, a lot of people are on remand,” Rogers said. “A lot of people are in because of drug-related crimes; they’re not getting treatment inside.”