Door closes on P4W for good

Kingston's infamous Prison for Women has finally closed its doors.

And while Solicitor General Lawrence MacAuley called an official closing ceremony at the 66-year-old federal institution yesterday a celebration, few former inmates and their supporters see it that way.

"I don't find it a celebration," said former inmate Tracy Thornberry. "I was basically brought up in here. This is what I learned. I found sorrow, grief I found myself."

For 66 years, any Canadian woman sentenced to two years or more came here.

Thornberry spent 10 years at P4W after being convicted of manslaughter. To her, this prison was home.

But for others, the institution was an impediment to rehabilitation. It took many women thousands of kilometres away from their families.

That's why Corrections Canada is currently housing maximum security female inmates in segregated units in men's prisons across the country an interim measure until the five regional women's prisons are fortified so they can handle higher risk offenders.

Critics have called for the prison to close almost since it opened. Incidents like the riot in 1994 that included male guards strip searching inmates have only increased those calls.

The closing has taken 10 years to complete, with the last prisoner moving out just two months ago.

Laurie MacDonald, the last deputy warden at P4W, says the closure marks the end of one era and the start of another.

"I think it's critical that the institution close, that we move forward," MacDonald said. "Many good lessons were learned here. But at the same time we're now ready to leap forward into the future."

The Elizabeth Fry Society hopes that will mean more than just regional institutions with high fences and barbed wire.

Society president Kim Pate says Canada's female inmates need more help integrating back into the community. And that includes vocational training and mental health support.