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EDITORIAL: Promises, promises

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

Last summer, The Telegram did a sweeping series on the dire need for a replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.

We recounted the dingy, depressing, outmoded conditions — one section dates to 1859 — the lack of programming, the poor work conditions for inmates and staff.

With Wednesday’s announcement from the provincial government that a new correctional facility will be built in the capital city, it sure sounds like there’s finally reason to rejoice.

But we won’t go breaking out the champagne just yet.

Promises of long-called-for new facilities are as much a part of pre-election politics as are daffodils to spring (in places that actually experience spring).

It’s no coincidence that there’s a suggestion of movement on a perennial problem when there just happens to be an election afoot.

Wednesday’s announcement was that a 21,000 square metre, $200-million correctional facility will be built in the White Hills area of St. John’s beginning in 2022, and that $600,000 will be set side in the upcoming provincial budget for planning.

And that’s your key word right there — planning.

Anyone remember nearly a decade ago, when the site of the replacement for Western Memorial Regional Hospital was announced with great fanfare by then premier Danny Williams? It still hasn’t been built, though the Liberals have promised it will open in 2023.

A replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary has been an oft-heard promise, with very little actually delivered.

Or how about eight years ago, in April 2011, when $4.5 million was budgeted for planning to replace the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s?

Back then, The Telegram reported that “The expected turnaround was four or five years” and then Health minister Jerome Kennedy was pooh-poohing any suggestion that it might not come to fruition. “I’m not coming here today and saying we’re going to replace the Waterford Hospital and next year change our minds. We are replacing the Waterford Hospital,” he said.

There was an election that year, too, and Kennedy’s Progressive Conservatives won handily.

However, four years later, the Waterford still hadn’t been replaced, though the PCs had.

But we digress.

A replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary has been an oft-heard promise, with very little actually delivered.

In the 1980s during a federal election campaign, a pledge was made to build a new prison in the Town of Harbour Grace. It didn’t happen.

In October 2013, then Justice minister Darin King announced a new prison would be built. “Province Moving Ahead with Planning,” the hopeful news release said.

In July 2018, an editorial in The Telegram noted it had been 10 years since the provincial government was handed a report into conditions in the province's prison system, “Decades of Darkness — Moving Toward the Light.”

That editorial posed a question that’s still unanswered: “when it comes to the penitentiary, just when exactly will the process reach the light?”

Don’t let one news conference on the eve of a provincial election fool you.

Anything could happen, including the Liberals losing. If they win, here’s hoping they prove us wrong.

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