'We may not ever recover': More than 500 pack Dauphin, Man., meeting over jail closure
City hosts meeting following provincial announcement that Dauphin Correctional Centre will close in May
Hundreds of people gathered in Dauphin Monday, hoping to learn more about the looming closure of the Dauphin Correctional Centre, with many demanding the province reconsider its decision to close one of the major employers in the western Manitoba city.
More than 500 people packed three rooms at Dauphin's recreational services facility, leaving only standing room and people listening in from an adjoining hallway.
The crowd gave several standing ovations, including to Chris Geisel, who spoke on behalf of staff at the facility.
"I was shocked, devastated. It was completely out of the blue," Geisel told CBC News.
Geisel has worked at the jail for nearly a decade and is also a union representative.
"There was no hint or no warning that it was coming … it was just a state of shock," he said.
Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announced the jail's closure in January, saying the 103-year-old facility no longer meets modern correctional needs and the decision to close it was not taken lightly.
The gathering was tense at times, with MLA Brad Michaleski, who has represented the city in the legislature since 2016, greeted with a series of loud boos as he took the mic.
During his speech, several audience members interrupted, calling for his resignation, as he continuted his speech about economic development and a vow to stand up for the region.
"The outcome this government is looking for is a better Manitoba for us and our children," Michaleski said.
When asked whether the decision could be reversed, Michaleski said a lot of thought went into the decision before it was made.
"It was not taken lightly," he said.
He said the province is now looking to mitigate the effects of it.
"People are devastated," Dauphin Mayor Allen Dowhan said following Monday night's town hall.
Dowhan, who was one of about a dozen speakers, said the closure of the jail and the loss of the 80 people employed there stands to affect the region's economy for years to come.
"We have a good community," he said. "We've done a lot of things to make it grow, to make it prosper and it's just taken the wind out of our sails."
Cullen was not present on Monday, but David Wright, the province's deputy minister was, and said Manitoba's other correctional facilities will have enough space to hold the approximately 60 inmates who are serving time in the Dauphin jail and that the decision is final.
"The decision has been made to my understanding and we've been moving forwards with the decision," he said.
Geisel said while the jail was old, several upgrades have been made to the facility in recent years and said it is still in relatively good shape. He said he and his family, like other employees, are still looking for answers.
"I don't even know what my options are right now," said Geisel. "We've had no answers on that."
The province said it will attempt to find employment elsewhere for the approximately 80 people working at the jail as corrections officers, administrators and nursing staff. But it hasn't revealed any more on what the plan is.
Other speakers at Monday's event spoke about the potential effect on the business community and the school system — the Mountain View School Division said it believes just under 50 students have at least one parent working at the Dauphin Correctional Centre.
The John Howard Society said inmates moving to facilities further away from their families will also have an effect.
"The families of people who are incarcerated can also be victimized in their own ways by not having access to their loved ones," said Christopher Schneider, who is on the society's board in Brandon. "There's definitely going to be more strain.
"What that's going to do is make longer commute times for people to get to their families," he said. "We're also assuming that they're going to have the means of transportation to get to their families."
Operations will begin winding down at the Dauphin facility, and it's expected to be closed by the end of May.
"We may not ever recover," said Dowhan. "We're going to lose population."
"The heartbreak it's causing is immeasurable."
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents jail employees, has planned a march and rally in Dauphin for Tuesday afternoon.