. . . . .
Ontario jail unprivatized
Toronto — Canada's only privately run jail is going public again.
The Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont., north of Toronto, was saving the provincial government money while in private hands.
But security, prisoner health care and other concerns were below the quality of services seen at a nearly identical publicly operated facility, Ontario Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter said Thursday.
“It was a worthwhile experiment,” Mr. Kwinter said of the maximum-security facility, which has been operated by Management and Training Corp. since May 2001.
In what was essentially a five-year pilot project, the Penetanguishene prison was compared with the Central East Correctional Centre in Kawartha Lakes, Ont. — which is identical in design, with the same 1,200-inmate population — to see if there were advantages other than cost to running a prison privately.
Mr. Kwinter said the study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that while the province saved money, the publicly run prison had better security, health care and reduced repeat offender rates.
“There's no question that they were delivering their service ... at a cheaper rate than it costs us,” Mr. Kwinter said. “When you do the analysis and you take a look at the comparison, there was a savings monetarily. But there was a cost in the outcomes.”
Mr. Kwinter said Management and Training Corp. Canada, which runs the Penetanguishene prison, was fully compliant in meeting its contract obligations. The contract ends Nov. 10.
Carl Stuart, communications director for the Utah-based company, said they only learned of the Ontario government's decision late Thursday and were still preparing a response.
Mr. Kwinter insisted the decision “isn't a knock against the company.”
“They run prisons all over the United States and other jurisdictions,” he said.
“It's just that from our perspective, for the type of facilities we want to run, we have found that there is not any great benefit when you factor in not just the nominal costs.”
The jail will be converted to a government-run facility over a six-month transition period, Mr. Kwinter said.
Firm, Ontario dispute jail savings
Prisoners and taxpayers are better served when jails are run publicly, Ontario's corrections minister said Friday despite a company's claims that millions of taxpayer dollars will be lost when Canada's only privately run prison is returned to the province.
Utah-based Management and Training Corp., which has run the Penetanguishene prison since May 2001, said taxpayers would have saved $11 million if its contract with the province was extended past the current deal's November expiry.
The company also said it cost the province $23 million less to have the facility run privately over the past five years.
But Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter insists prisoner health care, security and rehabilitation were all lacking at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene compared to a virtually identical jail run by public workers.
“We felt that the people of Ontario would be better served by bringing it back into the public service, where we can get the kind of outcomes that we as a government feel we should be getting,” Kwinter said.
In a five-year study, the Penetanguishene facility was compared to the Central East Correctional Centre in Kawartha Lakes, which is nearly identical in design and houses the same 1,200-inmate population.
Kwinter said the study showed offenders were better treated by the public service and were less likely to reoffend.
Kwinter's decision not to renew the contract with Management and Training Corp. effectively ends a provincial experiment into the privatization of prisons, the first of its kind in Canada.
Quebec has flirted with the idea but political officials in that province have expressed doubts as to whether private companies can offer adequate services to prisoners and security to the public.
Kwinter wouldn't elaborate on past problems at Penetanguishene. However, two years ago, a review of staffing levels there indicated chronic understaffing and a lack of adequate supervision.
Among security concerns was an August 2002 riot in which nearly 100 inmates almost escaped using a battering ram, according to the report.
Kwinter acknowledged it was cheaper to run the prison privately. But he attributed the savings to the contract drawn up by the previous Conservative government in Ontario that allowed the company to employ 94 fewer people than Kawartha Lakes, which the minister said resulted in lower-quality services.
“The contract was flawed and we had two-tier correctional delivery,” Kwinter said.
The company, which runs jails in the United States and Australia, denies the smaller workforce impacted services.
“We do not agree there was any evidence to support a change that will cost Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars each year,” said Scott Marquardt, president of Management and Training Corp. Canada.
Kwinter said the company was fully compliant according to its contract. But he said there were plenty of situations where understaffing led to substandard services.
For example, Kwinter said there are nine people at Kawartha Lakes who work to follow up with inmates after they leave prison so they can reintegrate into society. Penetanguishene only had one staff member doing such work, Kwinter said.
New Democrat critic Peter Kormos said it's a good thing the prison is being returned to public hands. But he also said it provides evidence that the government shouldn't be looking to private companies to run anything from hospitals to highway maintenance.
“When you are dealing with public safety . . . the existence of a middle man who is going to suck money out of the process by way of profits inevitably puts the public at risk,” Kormos said.
Conservative Leader John Tory, however, said the government shouldn't shut the cell door on privatizations of prison operations.
“I don't think we should rule it out,” Tory said.
More articles on prisonjustice.ca on privatization
More information on the fight against the privately-run CNCC: Citizens Against Private Prisons