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EDITORIAL: Another decade of darkness

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

In October 2008, Jerome Kennedy was the minister of justice and Danny Williams was premier.

They’ve since moved on — Danny Williams is now a mega-developer stickhandling the Galway project, and Kennedy is back to high-profile lawyering.

But they aren’t the only ones who have moved on.

Since then, Premier Kathy Dunderdale has retired from politics. Premier Tom Marshall also retired. Premier Paul Davis’ party was defeated in the last election. And Premier Dwight Ball has been in office since December 2015.

Her Majesty’s Penitentiary has not moved on.

In October of 2008, just short of a decade ago, a report into conditions in the province’s prison system, “Decades of Darkness — Moving Toward The Light” — was handed to Kennedy.

By the time the report was released, Kennedy wasn’t justice minister, Marshall was. The penitentiary, Marshall said at the time, “is an appalling institution … If we can’t get into a joint-costed, federal-provincial prison, then obviously we’re going to have to look at a new provincial penitentiary, just build it on our own.”

Her Majesty’s Penitentiary has not moved on.

Except, they didn’t.

Changes were made within the province’s prison system, but there are still problems, chief among them the fact that the prison, which has sections dating from 1855, is no longer a reasonable facility either for the safety of inmates and staff, or for any attempt to rehabilitate offenders.

Want to know something even more tragic? Given the glacial speed of major government construction projects (anyone seen the new Corner Brook hospital yet?), even if the provincial government were to announce the launch of a new penitentiary tomorrow, there would most likely be another decade of darkness before the facility was built.

It’s horrible enough that there are some among us who think inmates deserve the existing HMP as part of their sentences.

But stop and think: maybe your son makes a mistake. A horrible mistake. He may deserve a criminal sentence — do you think that includes the conditions at HMP?

There have been suicides. There have been riots. There have been beatings.

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?”

Hours tick over into days, months, years — and just like that, we’ve got another decade of darkness to add to the total.

There have been some steps forward — recently, even, the move to take mental health treatment in the penitentiary out of the Justice Department, and into the hands of the Department of Health, where it should have been all along.

But we have to ask: when it comes to the penitentiary, just when exactly will the process reach the light?

Get the whole story:

Telegram Special Report explores past, present and future of Her Majesty's Penitentiary

TIMELINE: Her Majesty's Penitentiary through the years

EDITORIAL: Another decade of darkness

SPECIAL REPORT: No federal cash for HMP

PAM FRAMPTON: New prison requires new ways of thinking

Her Majesty's Penitentiary — ‘This house of Hell’

Inmate's letter speaks volumes about conditions at HMP in St. John's: friend

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