Local jail deficits among smallest

Owen Sound $8,000, Walkerton $102,197 in red


Jails in Owen Sound, Walkerton and Sarnia, which the province announced will close this year to save money, had among the lowest budget deficits among 10 jails in southwestern Ontario last year.

Budget figures were obtained by the union representing Ontario’s public sector and shared with The Sun Times Tuesday.

They show Ontario’s adult institutional services overspent its $530.5 million 2009/10 budget by $25.2 million.

But just $8,454 of the deficit arose in Owen Sound, $102,197 in Walkerton and $9,161 in Sarnia.

“So you’re talking the three jails that came closest to meeting their budget are the ones that are being penalized,” said Paul Johnstone, president of Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Local 224, which includes jail workers in Owen Sound and Walkerton.

The Owen Sound Jail’s budget last year was about $4 million, Walkerton’s was $3.5 million, and Sarnia’s was between $6.5 and $7 million, Johnstone said.

Owen Sound Mayor Deborah Haswell said these numbers will provide more ammunition to at least postpone jail closures.

“It’s not hitting any of the benchmarks that any level of government would be looking at to save money,” Haswell said of Owen Sound Jail. “It’s running efficiently, it’s running to capacity, its providing a service to this region.”

She toured the jail Tuesday morning with Grey County Warden Arlene Wright and senior city and county staff. While it needs to be replaced, it’s still functional and needed, she said.

Owen Sound and Brockton councils formally passed resolutions Monday calling on the province to save their jails. The Owen Sound resolution calls for the city jail to stay open until a new one is built in Grey County.

Haswell met with Corrections Minister Jim Bradley and his assistant deputy minister, Steven Small, last week, but she left not feeling optimistic.

Follow-up meetings are scheduled with the assistant deputy minister today in Owen Sound and with Minister Bradley Thursday in Toronto.

Small will hear from Owen Sound’s acting police chief, the county lawyers’ association president, a mental health worker and from OPSEU local president Paul Johnstone. Small will attend a presentation from Brockton Mayor David Inglis Friday in Walkerton

Brockton council heard an “emotional” presentation by Gerry Hope, representing the unionized jail workers, some 15 or 20 of whom attended the council meeting Monday night, Inglis said Tuesday.

“As far as saving dollars on closing the jail, I don’t see it,” Inglis said. He questions savings of $1.8 million when the largest cost is in salaries and workers have been promised jobs elsewhere, negating the savings.

He also doubts provincial cost estimates. He said the jail needs about $80,000 in renovations but the province’s estimate is $800,000. He said the jail is in good shape.

Today the minister will meet with Bruce County Warden Mike Smith, Warden Wright in Grey, Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch, Haswell said.

Jail closure plans “will definitely be an election issue,” Haswell said. She will shine a light on why Corrections would close jails in small-town Ontario while jails in larger centres remain open while running greater deficits.

“What they’re doing is they’re taking $6 million (payroll) between Owen Sound and Walkerton out of our region. That’s just one aspect of this,” she said. “I don’t know, in my books that’s now how you build a strong Ontario.”

Haswell called the provincial justification of financial savings for the closings a “false pretense of saving tax dollars.”

“(It) is short-sighted and it doesn’t make any sense and these documents further drive the point home that this decision has been made in haste and has not been carefully reviewed.”

The Ontario government announced in its March 29 budget statement the closure of the Victorian-era jails in Owen Sound, Walkerton and Sarnia by December.

Provincial officials said closing Owen Sound Jail will save $2.2 million, while closing Walkerton Jail will save $1.8 million.

Corrections Minister Jim Bradley wrote in a letter to the editor it costs more than $275 per inmate per day at the Owen Sound jail, compared to less than half that at Central North Correctional Centre. That’s the so-called super jail in Penetanguishene, where Owen Sound inmates would be housed.

“With a $16.3 billion budget deficit, the province needs to look at how to deliver services in a more economical manner,” he wrote.

He also said that since 1998, 20 correctional facilities were closed in favour of “larger, more modern and economical facilities.”

Johnstone said he suspects the government, under budget pressure, misjudged the concern that announcing the closures would generate.

“Everybody agrees the facilities are old, we do need a new, larger facility. But I’m sure the mayor will tell you the building is good enough until we get that new facility.”

Meanwhile, he said the ministry hasn’t been hiring people for two years and so there won’t be enough employees to run new jails opening in Toronto and Windsor.

He suspects the government intends to use seasoned staff from Owen Sound, Walkerton and Sarnia to help run them.

Owen Sound’s jail superintendent directed a call to the Ministry of Community, Public Safety and Corrections, which didn’t respond by the supper hour.