While the Conservative Government of Canada is set to announce a job creation plan tomorrow (read CBC News article), they may also be considering another strategy to address unemployment in Canada and other social ills prisons have become a panacea for - to build new regional penitentiary complexes.
According to a partial release of documents obtained through an Access to Information request filed with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) as part of a research project I've undertaken with Humber Professor Greg McElligott, federal penitentiary system officials formed a "Modernization of physical infrastructure and planning of regional complexes Committee" in 2008. They have also been attending presentations by government corporations such as P3 Canada, Infrastructure Ontario, and Partnerships BC on the different forms of public-private partnerships that exist for establishing new capital projects since at least March 2008 (view documents here).
The contents of these documents raise a number questions that need to be directed towards Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. Most importantly among them is whether or not CSC has tabled a capital plan for regional complexes to Cabinet involving a private-public partnership for building, financing and maintaining these facilities.
According to a 6 December 2010 response by Minister Toews to an Order Paper question submitted by former Liberal Public Safety Critic Mark Holland (Q-471), CSC's "Long-term Accommodation Strategy and Investment Plan" was to be tabled "for consideration in March 2011". It is now October 2011 and some 7 months have passed. So the main question that the Minister needs to be asked is whether there is a plan for regional penitentiary complexes siting on his desk or if he'd "rather not share" those details with Canadians at this time.
Emergence of the Proposal for Regional Complexes
In 2007, the CSC Review Panel identified several deficiencies with the current fleet of federal penitentiaries including their age, the preponderance of space said to be inconducive to the provision of institutional security and programming, and the geographic dispersal of the facilities. With these issues and others in mind, the panel made the following recommendations:
"98. The Panel recommends that CSC pursue undertaking capital and operating investments in a new type of regional, penitentiary complex that responds to the cost-efficiency and operational-effectiveness deficits of its current physical infrastructure.
99. The Panel recommends that CSC develop a 'project development proposal' for consideration which takes into account the recommendations of Deloitte's October 4, 2007 Independent Review of the cost estimate for the construction and operation of a new correctional facility which was commissioned by the Panel.
100. The Panel recommends that in the interim, CSC institute a clear criteria to minimize authorization of retrofit projects".
It should be noted that the Review Panel's recommendations for regional complexes that would replace existing facilities did not account for an influx of new prisoners resulting from some Conservative punishment bills such as the Truth in Sentencing Act (2009) (note: Deloitte estimated each facility would contain 2,175 cells). As will be discussed further below, the proposition of limiting retrofit projects appears to have been ignored as CSC pursues a short-term accommodation strategy to deal with an increase in their prison population and a long-term accommodation strategy along the lines of the Review Panel's recommendations.
CSC's Transformation Team
Following the release of the report, CSC assembled a "Transformation Team" in early 2008 to implement the recommendations of the Review Panel. According to, then, CSC Senior Deputy Commissioner Don Head (now CSC Commissioner), part of their activities involved the development of a three-pronged plan to 'modernize' physical infrastructure (read May 2008 article):
Component 1 (retrofits)
"The first addresses the most severe problems associated with "rust-out" in our institutions. CSC was provided with resources in 2007-08 and 2008-09 to do exactly this. A priority list of repairs and improvements was identified, by institution, and we will be proceeding to implement these changes".
Component 2 (short-term accommodation strategy)
"A second and important requirement is the review of our current accommodation strategy and capital accommodation plan, particularly with respect to critical redevelopment and new construction plans. We must ensure that our current plans help us meet the immediate needs of the changing prisoner profile, while ensuring that we do not over-invest in infrastructure that could be replaced by regional complexes".
(long-term accommodation strategy / regional complexes)
"Overall, a regional complex would comprise maximum-, medium- and minimum-security accommodation areas, appropriately separated within a common perimeter fence but sharing common services [...]
We are also moving forward in exploring the approach that will be used to enter into a public-private sector arrangement to assist us in the modernization initiative. It is important that we be well advised as we move forward. We have had a preliminary briefing by a new Crown corporation, the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which was established by the Government in the 2008 Budget to support public-private partnerships in maximizing financial investments. We have also had preliminary discussions with Partnerships BC, a provincial Crown agency to support such partnerships. Ongoing consultations with such groups will ensure that we do not move forward alone, but with expert advice and guidance.
Thirdly, we are putting together a CSC team to develop a business process overview. The overview will in a very detailed manner, describe all aspects of our institutional activities, from intake assessment to reintegration planning and community release. As well, it will define management and operational requirements related to security, and the day-to-day running of the institution. Consultation with regional staff is an equally important element of the creation of the overview.
During this planning period and beyond, full consideration will be given to the relationship of moving to a regional complex with the impact on staff. Every effort will be taken to ensure that the needs of institutional staff are considered in the transition process. This will include ongoing consultation with the unions, institutional staff and the communities that will be affected".
The Modernization of Physical Infrastructure and
Planning of Regional Complexes Committee
As noted at the beginning of this entry, the third component of CSC's so-called physical infrastructure modernization efforts including the development of a project plan for regional complexes has involved meetings with a number of agencies involved in public-private partnerships.
To date, documentation has been obtained from the following presentations that CSC officials have attended: 1) March 2008 - P3 Canada; 2) no date - Public Works and Government Services; 3) 2 April 2009 - Infrastructure Ontario; 4) 8 April 2008 - Public Works and Government Services Canada; 5) 4 June 2009 - meeting participants, Infrastructure Ontario (part I; part II), Partnerships BC; and 6) 20 January 2010 - P3 Canada.
Documentation has also been obtained from a 20-21 November 2008 meetings of the Modernization of Physical Infrastructure and Planning of Regional Complexes Committee and related e-mails (25 July 2008; 9 October 2008).
As this Committee continued its work, a CSC Task Force on Security published a report in August 2008 (read here) that, while supportive of a multi-security-level facility concept, proposed that the capacity of institutions adopting such a model should not exceed 500 prisoners. This is significantly lower than the number of prisoners that would be warehoused within institutions modelled along the approach discussed by Deloitte as part of the 2007 CSC Review Panel report. As such, questions need to be raised about what configuration federal penitentiaries are proposed to take under CSC's long-term accommodation strategy that was scheduled to be tabled to Minister Toews months ago.
A Short-term Accommodation Strategy
In the midst of working towards developing a plan for regional complexes, CSC was also in the process on putting together a short-term accommodation strategy to absorb an expected influx of new prisoners resulting from federal sentencing measures. The details of this aspect of the 'modernization' of federal penitentiary system infrastructure began to emerge as Minister Toews was increasingly pressed by journalists and opposition parliamentarians to explain how the Conservatives planned to absorb the expected influx of new prisoners resulting from their punishment agenda beginning in March 2010.
As pressure continued to mount, CSC Commissioner Don Head wrote an op-ed published on 22 June 2010 (read here) - the same day that the Parliamentary Budget Officer published an estimate of the costs associated with the Truth in Sentencing Act (2009) (read here) - that offered a few details regarding CSC's short- and long-term accommodation plans. Among the details shared was a plan to create 2,700 additional prison spaces by adding new units on the grounds of existing facilities, along with an "increase in shared cell accommodation", also known as double-bunking. While Minister Toews had previously suggested that Commissioner Head was engaging in "conjecture" when he suggested in e-mails and before parliamentary committee's that new institutions would be constructed (watch 18 March 2010 interview on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon), the op-ed mentioned that CSC was also pursuing a "long-term plan that takes into account the need to replace some penitentiaries that have stood the test of time for many decades and no longer meet the requirements of a modern correctional system".
As part of CSC's short-term accommodation strategy, the Conservatives announced the equivalent of 34 new units to be located on the grounds of existing institutions from August 2010 to January 2011 (read 14 February 2011 post). It is estimated that these facilities will add 2,552 new prisoner beds at a construction cost of $601 million. In the process, it appears as though CSC and the Conservatives are ignoring aspects of the recommendations made by the 2007 CSC Review Panel that sought to replace, not expand, the federal penitentiary system's aging fleet of institutions.
As more details emerge, it also appears that CSC is moving towards establishing additional multi-level institutions through these smaller capital projects. For instance, a new maximum-security unit is being established on the grounds of the medium-security Collins Bay Institution. Such measures have been criticized by a number of stakeholders ranging from Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, to officials from the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (read 2 August 2011 article by Rob Tripp).
Potential Carceral Futures
and the Need for Transparency
With the agency's long-term accommodation strategy scheduled to be submitted in March 2011, there is a need to ask whether or not the additions being erected as part of CSC's short-term accommodation strategy may in fact be money down the drain should the facilities where they are being erected be closed as the 2007 CSC Review Panel recommends.
Another scenario, whereby old facilities that the Review Panel recommended for closure do not go offline as intended as new prisons designed to replace them come online, is just as plausible given the history of penal infrastructure construction in Canada that often sees facilities like Kingston Penitentiary (built in 1835) remain in operation long after promises of their closure are made. If this turns out to be the case, CSC will continue to have a stock of aging penitentiaries, along with newer facilities, that will further entrench Canada's capacity to confine and punish at a tremendous economic and human cost.
Do Canadians have a right to know where or not there is a plan for regional complexes siting on Minister Toews' desk and what that plan entails? I suspect the federal government will take the position that we do not - after all, why give their critics more ammunition to denounce their punishment agenda that the best available evidence suggests will have a negligible impact on what we call 'crime'.
I do hope, however, that I'm wrong and that they may have the courage to give us our information so that we can decide for ourselves if we want to be paying prison mortgages in the decades ahead as my generation is asked to pay higher taxes, while expenditures on priorities such as education for our children, old age security for our parents, health care for all citizens, and other measures are rolled back under the banners of 'austerity' and 'smaller' government.