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EDITORIAL: Pressing prison problems

Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s at Quidi Vidi Lake.
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s at Quidi Vidi Lake, summer 2018. — Telegram file photo

How many times have we written this?

Wednesday, the provincial government released its latest report into conditions in the province’s prison system, a report launched after four prisoners died in their cells in a 10-month period in 2017-2018.

The latest report said, “The current system cannot adequately address mental health and addictions issues. … The corrections system in this province has not been a priority and it has been under-resourced for so long, it has now reached a breaking point.”

That is, sadly, old news. Editorially, we’ve written for years about the need for change.

Here’s a sample.

December 2008: “The report describes everything from suicidal prisoners being put into windowless, concrete cells with 24-hour lighting and only mattresses on the floor, to the report’s authors holding interviews with guards in which one out of six guards had an emotional breakdown during the interviews.”

Wednesday, the provincial government released its latest report into conditions in the province’s prison system, a report launched after four prisoners died in their cells in a 10-month period in 2017-2018.

May 2010: “Trying to operate a modern corrections facility within HMP’s infrastructure is like putting lipstick on the proverbial penal pig — the site is not suited to modern corrections, because parts of it are so old that it’s practically not suited to indoor plumbing.”

March 2011: “But if anyone thought the report would bring about change, they were mistaken. It was dispatched just as quickly as the MOU report on fisheries restructuring — before the ink was even dry, the report was being tossed out the window.”

October 2013: “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.”

March 2014: “But the real elephant in the room is plunked down on the side of Quidi Vidi Lake. Changes aren’t really going to come until Her Majesty’s Penitentiary is replaced by a modern facility.”

RELATED SERIES

Read The Telegram’s 2018 Special Report on Her Majesty’s Penitentiary here

January 2017: “The annual round of news stories about Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s has come, and just as quickly gone.… And, in a year from now, there will be another round of news stories about the crumbling HMP. Unless, of course, something far more tragic happens first. And if it does — or, more likely, when it does — absolutely no one will be able to claim to be surprised.”

March 2017: “You need look no farther than the last report on Her Majesty’s Penitentiary to see how this year’s commitment can become next year’s doorstop.”

July 2018: “As horrible as it is to say, there’s a strong chance that something much worse is eventually going to happen within those aging walls. When it does, there will be plenty of people who should have to look deep into their own souls and ask, ‘Is there something I could have done to prevent this?’”

You can understand the reasoning; humane treatment of convicted criminals isn’t a vote-getter. So, chances are, politicians will talk the talk, and walk … away.

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