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LETTER: N.L. government has to find a way to replace the ‘dungeon at the lake’

Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. — Glen Whiffen/The Telegram
Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. — Glen Whiffen/The Telegram

We’ve heard many horror stories coming out of our correctional facilities over the years, whether it be related to drugs, living conditions, violence or even death. Of course, in recent times, the latter has come to the forefront on several occasions with the latest involving a young man taking his own life at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary only a few days after reaching out to the Human Rights Commission regarding what he deemed to be deplorable conditions.

Now as I am writing this, I know there are people who will roll their eyes and say things such as “commit the crime, do the time” or “we should punish criminals not put them up in a Hilton” as well as statements like “what about the victims?”

As someone who has been the victim of crime, albeit fairly minor in nature, I totally get it and firmly believe that these individuals have to be held accountable for their actions and that punishment, deterrence and justice for the victims definitely has to be a significant part of the equation. 

However, consider this — the vast majority of those who enter our correctional facilities will, indeed, get out at some point. When that happens, do we want to at least have made the effort to rehabilitate them, assist them in beating their addictions and set them down the path to becoming productive citizens or do we want them coming out worse than when they went in?

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In many cases, the people entering our correctional facilities are there due to drug addictions and/or mental-health issues. Arguably, some of them actually belong in a medical facility versus a correctional facility. In fairness to our current government, it does seem that they do indeed understand this and hopefully will act on the commitments they have made to ensure the appropriate medical treatments (physical and mental), addiction services and other programs are implemented in all of our correctional facilities.

It is also important for us all to remember that nobody is born a criminal. No doubt children are influenced by their parents and guardians and often children who come from unsafe and unstable homes are at higher risk to commit crimes then those who are raised in a stable environment with all of the love, support and guidance they require. 

That said, regardless of your upbringing and your family’s financial/social status, anyone can make a mistake that can lead them down the road to addiction and crime and anyone can develop a mental illness. It could be your child. If your children are raised, it could be your grandchild.

My point being, that while we may want to divorce ourselves from this issue and think it only applies to the so-called “skeets” of our society, that may not necessarily be the case.

Now I know that when it comes to our fiscal situation and public priorities, money invested in corrections is generally not on the top of the list. Of course government’s know this and realize there is much more political capital in building new schools, recreational facilities and paving roads, hence the reason why the ‘Dungeon at the Lake’ still exists.

That said, the time has long come to replace Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. As a civilized society we must ensure humane treatment, proper medical care (physical and mental) and at least make a reasonable effort to rehabilitate those who have broken the law. This is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do in the current environment. Not only does this facility represent a safety risk and inhumane conditions for inmates but also for the hard working women and men who serve as correctional officers at this facility.

So I certainly encourage the premier and his government to find a way to put the necessary medical and rehabilitative programs in place to ensure effective and humane treatment of our inmates and call upon them to replace Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. Our premier continues to boast about his tremendous relationship with the federal government so perhaps a partnership can be developed to make this happen sooner, rather than later.

Paul Lane

Independent MHA – District of Mount Pearl-Southlands

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