An entrepreneur in Windsor, Ont., has started a jail tourism industry of sorts.
Businessman Mohamed Chams is offering free passes to a new water park in Windsor, Ont., to any out-of-towners visiting family members who will be serving jail time in the South West Detention Centre that's set to open this summer.
Chams owns Call2Talk, which provides discounted collect calls from jails, detention centres and prisons to homes.
The new super jail will house inmates serving a maximum of two years less a day.
To qualify for the free passes to Windsor’s new multimillion-dollar water park, people must:
- Be an active customer with a Call2Talk subscription.
- Be visiting a family member in the new South West Detention Centre.
- Not be a resident of Windsor.
Chams, who is also running for city council, is advertising his plan on Kijiji.
“Is your loved one getting transferred to the new Super jail in Windsor? Make your visit to Windsor fun for your children on us, at the Adventure Bay Family Water Park,” the ad reads.
The new maximum-security facility has a 315-bed capacity for both male and female inmates.
“Yes, it is a jail, but we can’t look at it as a negative. We need to take advantage of it. We saw a great business opportunity,” Chams said.
He anticipates as many as 500 people will visit inmates in Windsor on any given weekend. The new detention centre replaces and consolidates jails in Windsor and Chatham. It's built on the edge of Windsor, just south of Highway 401.
Chams said the jail, to many residents and business owners, is “out of sight, out of mind.”
“I’m downtown and guess what? I’m going to bring them from the 401 to downtown and make sure they’re in sight at all times,” he said of those visiting inmates. “These are people that come to your city with money. They have to eat at the end of the day and they have to go out.”
The entire downtown aquatic centre, which also has a competitive pool, cost the City of Windsor nearly $80 million. The new detention centre cost nearly $250 million.
“This water park was created to attract people. Yes, people are in jail, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t entitled to this,” Chams said. “If you’re a council member or business owner you should look at this facility and say ‘what can we do to make money off this deal?’”
Chams said he is in talks with local hotels and “other places to entertain kids,” too. He hopes to offer hotel packages and not just water park passes to families with inmates in Windsor.
“Our goal is to keep them all here,” Chams said. “There is great revenue to be made.”
Marion Joppe, a professor of tourism at the University of Guelph, says jail tourism is usually based on visiting closed and decommissioned jails and prisons.
“At first blush it may be shocking that somebody is going to profit from somebody who has a loved one in prison. But at the same time we offer all kinds of services for all kinds of reasons, so why not?” Joppe said. “They will need accommodation. And if they are accompanied by children they will look for things to entertain the children.”
City of Windsor CAO Helga Reidel said the jail will create jobs, but she's not sure how many.
“Anytime you build and expand a facility in a city the spinoff is there,” Reidel said, speaking generally of the jail’s economic impact.
“The water park is open for passes to purchase. I guess it’s a promotional item for the business. We’re in a business of selling passes at that facility and we hope they’ll be well-used with all good reasons in mind," Reidel said.
At a news conference Friday at the South West Detention Centre, assistant deputy minister of Institutional Services, Steve Small, said the province will review what Chams is doing but had no other comment.
Windsor Chamber of Commerce president Matt Marchand wasn't available for comment.
Liberal Windsor West MPP Teresa Piruzza declined to comment.
An email and call to the John Howard Society weren't immediately returned.