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Women's jail to move to Headingley
The provincial NDP government has announced it will build a new jail for women in the Headingley area, just west of Winnipeg.
The new facility, which is scheduled to open in 2009, will replace the 113-year-old jail for women in Portage la Prairie. The jail houses women awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than two years.
Women's advocates have long called for the Portage jail to be closed. The building is supposed to house 35 inmates – but last week, it was home to 53 women, some sleeping on the floor in crumbling, sometimes bug-infested cells.
"The conditions are deplorable right now," said Lucille Bruce, executive director of the Native Women's Transition Centre, who sat on a committee that provided recommendations to the province about the new jail.
"This is why we recommended that they move forward quite quickly on building the new facility for the women."
Provincial officials say relocating the jail to Headingley puts it closer to the courts, lawyers, most offenders' families and other supports needed by inmates. More than 70 per cent of the inmates currently held at the Portage jail are from Winnipeg.
The government has purchased 73 hectares of land just west of Winnipeg and will spend about $25 million building the new jail. Headingley is already home to the Headingley Correctional Institution, a minimum-, medium- and maximum-security facility for up to 450 men.
The new facility will include a healing lodge for aboriginal inmates and transitional housing for inmates who have completed their sentences.
Provincial Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh hopes to convince the federal government to help share the cost of the project.
"The estimated cost currently is about $25 million, but that figure could be different if the federal government agrees to house federally-sentenced women as well at this facility," Mackintosh said.
"We've had some discussions with the federal government. There is some interest in that, but they want to see where the facility would be located. So now there will be some discussions within a limited time frame to determine the federal goverment's interest."
Currently, Manitoba does not have a facility suitable for housing women serving federal time.
Officials with the city of Portage la Prairie expressed disappointment with the announcement, saying it will be a big loss for the community.
"It isn't just the jobs. There's an awful lot of spinoffs as well, when it comes to supplies and tradespeople working and so on and so forth," said Portage Mayor Ian MacKenzie. "Another thing was that the institution contributed a great deal to the life of Portage la Prairie, with … the voluntary work that they did and so on."
MacKenzie is holding out hope the province will locate a new healing lodge for female offenders in Portage. His city will lobby with the Long Plains First Nation to make that happen.
Provincial officials say current members of the staff at the Portage jail will continue to be employed in the new facility. Headingley is located about 65 kilometres east of Portage – usually less than a hour's drive on the Trans-Canada Highway.
The provincial government has been discussing what to do with the Portage facility for more than 15 years. In 1991, the aboriginal justice inquiry recommended the jail be closed. More than a decade later, the Elizabeth Fry Society launched a human-rights complaint into conditions at the jail.
That year, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh announced the jail would close and a new one would be built. A consultation committee began hearings in 2004, and the committee submitted its final report to the government a year ago.Source: cbc.ca
Inmates' advocates impatient for closure of women's jail
For years, the province has promised to close the century-old women's jail in Portage la Prairie – but after all the consultations and reports, the crowded, century-old facility continues to operate.
The jail, built in 1893, is supposed to house 35 inmates – but this week, it's home to 53 women awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than two years. The women are packed into crumbing, sometimes bug-infested cells.
"The situation is really bad for the women. For example, many women are sleeping on the floor," says Debra Parks with the Elizabeth Fry Society, which works with women in the justice system. "There's no meaningful programming, in terms of education or culturally appropriate services."
Most of the women in the jail are aboriginal. Native groups say they desperately need a new facility that offers cultural programs.
"The progress is extremely slow, and almost disheartening and disrespectful for the women who are currently housed there," says Nahanni Fontaine with the Southern Chiefs Organization. "Women's groups across the province are wondering what's going on."
The complaints are not new. In 1991, the aboriginal justice inquiry recommended the jail be closed.
In 2002, the Elizabeth Fry Society launched a human-rights complaint into conditions at the jail. That same year, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh announced the jail would close and a new one would be built.
A consultation committee began hearings in 2004, and a year ago this week, the committee submitted its final report to the government.
In all that time, critics say, little has changed for the institution's inmates.
The justice minister was not available to comment on the situation at the jail. A spokesperson for his office said the minister is expected to make an announcement about the facility in the next few weeks.
Source: www.cbc.caMore articles on prisonjustice.ca on women in prison