Ontario jails under pressure with Kingston Pen closure

Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur says the closure of Kingston Penitentiary, which holds killers Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams, would put more strain on the provincial system that is already closing jails.

Omnibus crime bill already putting pressure on province's resources, minister says

An aerial view of the Kingston Penitentiary. The government announced Thursday it will be closed over the next two years. (iStock)

Ontario is blasting a federal plan to close down two prisons, including one in Kingston, even though the province is itself shutting down several jails to save money.

Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said Thursday she was not happy about the announcement, saying the closure of the Kingston prison that holds killers Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams would put more strain on the provincial system.


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"We're already housing some of their inmates because they don't have space in their federal penitentiary and now they're closing one of their larger ones, so I don't understand their decision," she said.

The move, she added, was especially surprising after Ottawa introduced a tougher crime bill.

"With C-10, there'll be more people that are being put in jail so we'll need more beds so it's going to put pressure to the province because we are already housing some of their clients."

Meilleur has previously said the omnibus federal crime bill will cost Ontario more than $1 billion in increased police and court costs, and estimates it could add another 1,500 inmates to the provincial system by 2016.

Ontario prisons at 95% capacity

There are about 8,500 inmates in Ontario correctional facilities, which operate at about 95 per cent capacity.

Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen, who represents the riding of Kingston, also expressed concern about the closure, even as he recognized the Kingston Penitentiary is Canada's oldest.

"We are good at the whole correctional service system, we've been operating locally, with employment, for over the last 150 years," he said.

"My main concern is that the jobs that might be at stake there will in effect be utilized at one of the other facilities or in a new facility."

Kingston now houses 346 inmates and has more than 460 employees, most of whom are expected to move jobs to other Kingston-area prisons.

Jails in GTA, Sarnia to be shut down

Critics made arguments similar to Meilleur’s and Gerretsen’s when the province closed jails in Owen Sound and Walkerton in December. They argued the cuts would spark major court delays, send transportation costs soaring and devastate rural communities.

The cash-strapped Liberals also plan to shut down a Sarnia jail, as well facilities in Brantford, Chatham and Toronto.

The government said the initial three closures would save $8 million a year by moving the inmates to newer and larger facilities in Windsor and Penetanguishene, north of Barrie.

Meilleur said at the time the jails were inefficient, old and in need of updating.

Thursday's federal announcement also includes the Leclerc prison near Montreal, and deals with two prisons Ottawa describes as old fashioned.

The Conservatives say the closures will save $120 million a year.