In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Protests Against Youth Super Jail

Youth Confront Minister over plan to build 81 million dollar super jail for youth
81 Reasons Campaign Report

(APRIL 13, 2006 Toronto): Members of the 81 Reasons Campaign, a grassroots group opposed to the construction of a new superjail for youth, jubilantly disrupted a press conference of Mary-Anne Chambers, Minister of Children and Youth Services, to protest against the McGuinty government's plans to spend 81.1 million dollars to build a 192-bed youth superjail in Brampton.

Members of 81 Reasons had been trying to secure a meeting with minister since she had made a commitment to do so over a month ago. Several members of 81 Reasons tried to follow up on this commitment on Monday April 10th, but were locked out of Chambers constituency office when attempting to deliver a package of information.

Upon arrival at Chambers press event, members of the 81 Reasons Campaign were immediately questioned by an OPP officer. Each member was asked by the OPP officer to provide proof of identification even though this was not asked of other attendees. Members asked the OPP officer why this was necessary, but politely complied and took their seats in the press room.

Shortly before the press conference began, however, the OPP officer asked 81 Reasons members to step outside at the request of the director of the building. The director stated that this was an “invitation-only” event and asked the group to leave. It seemed that at this event announcing funding for youth, press organizers did not want any youth present.

Three 81 Reasons members returned to the press room to retrieve their bags and before the OPP officer could force them back out the door, they pulled out a banner that said “81 Reasons to Stop the Youth Super Jail.” With all the cameras rolling, members of 81 Reasons loudly denounced the Minister's plans for the superjail and called for an immediate halt to building plans. Members questioned the need for superjail, particularly when 50% of closed custody beds for youth are currently empty. Members of 81 Reasons also informed the press that they had been locked out of Chamber's constituency office on Monday.

Chambers' staff, were visibly upset by the disruption and several followed the 81 Reasons group as they were ushered out the door. Chambers' staff members denied receiving correspondence from 81 Reasons requesting a meeting, and one staff person told the group that they had “blown” their chances with the Minister.

81 Reasons continued to protest outside, attracting attention and support from concerned citizens, including striking OPSEU members from Kennedy House in Ajax who were also protesting outside the press conference.

Following the press conference, Mary-Anne Chambers approached the 81 Reasons Group and haughtily rebuked members for going to her constituency office and for disrupting the press event. She stated that she was “very disappointed” with 81 Reasons.

Needless to say, 81 Reasons was equally “disappointed” with Chambers.

“The minister said today that she supports programs that tackle the root causes of crime. Locking young people up far from home, does nothing to tackle root causes such as poverty, unemployment and racism that youth face every day,” said 81 Reasons member Sean Lee-Popham. “If the minister does indeed support such an approach then let us see her put this 81 million dollars into programs that will do just that instead of spending it on a Super Jail for youth.”

Centres target troubled youth
`Intervention' will be offered at 12 new provincial facilities
Protestors, angry over `super-jail,' interrupt announcement
April 14, 2006.
Toronto Star

Twelve new youth centres aimed at rehabilitating low-risk criminals will open in Ontario this year, the province's youth services minister said yesterday at a news conference disrupted by protests over plans to build a "super-jail" for young offenders.

The new centres will bring the total number of youth intervention centres to 27 in the province, said Children and Youth Services Minister Mary Anne Chambers.

The centres offer youth supervised programs on anger management, education, employment skills and other issues. Participants are generally young people convicted of minor crimes, such as theft or small drug possession, who are sent to the centres by a judge as a condition of their probation.

"These kids go to school, they do everything that other kids would normally do. But in addition to that, they must participate in the programs as determined by the courts — programs such as those delivered here," Chambers said.

The goal, she said, is to "ensure that people who have in fact done something stupid don't graduate to things that are actually more serious."

Chambers said the centres are part of a $22-million annual investment aimed at providing "community alternatives" for youth in conflict with the law. About $9.5 million is being spent this year to establish the 12 new centres and improve support at 15 existing ones.

But activists shouted down Chambers, arguing the funds for such programs pale compared to the $81 million they say the province is wasting to build a new 190-bed jail in Brampton, northwest of Toronto.

"We feel this $81 million would be much better spent in the community looking at the roots of crime and stopping that," Sean Lee-Popham of the group 81 Reasons said after being ejected from the news conference.

His group said young criminals are better rehabilitated at smaller facilities closer to their home communities.

The province has argued the Brampton jail, scheduled to open in 2008, is a "campus-style" facility being designed with youth in mind.

Chambers said critics of the Brampton facility need to look at the "broader" things the government is doing to help young people, including the youth intervention centres.

The new intervention centres will be opened in Belleville, Chatham, Cornwall, Hamilton, Lindsay, London, Milton, Moose Factory, New Liskeard, Orillia, Richmond Hill and Sault Ste. Marie.

with files from Canadian Press

Mary-Anne Chambers Staff locks their doors to 81 Reasons
81 Reasons Campaign Report

APRIL 11, 2006 Scarborough: Members from the 81 Reasons campaign, a grassroots group opposed to the construction of a new superjail for youth, visited the Minister of Child and Youth Services, Mary-Anne Chambers, constituency office on April 10, 2006 at 3:30 p.m. in order to hand-deliver a copy of the Meffe inquest. The Meffe inquest was released two years ago and included strong recommendations that youth should not be held in large-scale prisons. Despite this inquest the provincial government plans to open the doors of a new youth superjail in Brampton, Ontario in 2007.

As the group of nine people approached the door to Mary-Anne Chambers constituency office in Scarborough, the door was locked by staff in the office. When constituency office staff was contacted by phone they explained that they closed the office twenty minutes early because they were “short-staffed”. It was very clear to the group that staff locked the doors early because they wanted to avoid talking with 81 Reasons. Members from the campaign instead left a copy of the inquest with John McKay's office, the federal Liberal MP for Scarborough East, which remained open, promised to deliver the inquest to Mary-Anne Chambers.

81 Reasons will continue to try to meet with the Minister in order to get up to date information about the super-jail. We will also continue to send the message that 81 Million dollars should be invested in the community rather than being spent on a superjail for young people. Prisons do not make us safer!Private prison operators waiting to cash in on Harper policies.


Super-jail for youth opposed
Apr. 11, 2006.
Toronto Star

Don't build the Brampton super-jail for young people.

That was the message from activists holding a quiet vigil at the Peace Garden in Nathan Phillips Square yesterday to mark the second anniversary of the release of findings from the David Meffe inquest.

"The jury clearly recommended no super-jail. It's not the way to go," said Cheryl Milne, a lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth. "We're really dismayed at the failure to look at smaller facilities."

Meffe was 16 when he hanged himself on Oct. 1, 2002, by attaching his bedsheet to a metal bar fixed on his bunk at the Toronto Youth Assessment Centre. The 130-bed Etobicoke facility was closed in June 2004.

Meffe was not convicted of any violent crime. He was facing charges of stealing cheques from family members.

While his family did not attend yesterday's memorial, his mother issued a statement urging the province to adopt the jury recommendations.

"Young people are still at risk," says Filippa Meffe. "Our family will never be the same. The pain of losing our beloved David will never diminish. Please do not allow David's death to have been in vain."

Milne pointed out that having smaller facilities closer to the community is better than one centre in Brampton, far from public transit.

Currently, some Toronto youth are housed in Hamilton and Cobourg.

James Ip, a spokesperson for Mary Anne Chambers, minister for children and youth services, said the 192-bed Brampton facility is designed with youth in mind. They would be housed in individual compounds in campus-style grounds.

Construction on the jail, which is scheduled to open in 2008, should begin later this year.

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