Monday, February 24, 2014


"Overall, Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, has outlived its life expectancy. The Department of Justice is in the preliminary stages of planning for a new institution. The Panel believes there is an urgent need to move forward with this plan in order to provide a humane, safe environment correctional staff and inmates.” 


The hotel down by the lake’s days are numbered.

Six years after “Decades of Darkness: Moving Towards The Light” exposed the problems with this province’s prison system, the government has announced that the antiquated, 115 year old Her Majesty's Penitentiary will be replaced, with or without assistance from the Federal Government.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province without a federal penitentiary. Uncle Ottawa has a long, decades long history of promising to assist with a new facility, but even with the Harper “tough on crime “ money has not flowed.

It is the primary facility for housing medium/maximum security male prisoners. All admissions from the Avalon Peninsula, high security male inmates, long term remands and those awaiting transfer to a federal penitentiary are housed there.

The the current administration is putting the process in place to issue a terms of reference for a proposals to plan a new men’s prison. The expected budget or  the time frame  has not been disclosed.

The announcement has opened up a public debate about where the new penitentiary should be located. We know it will not be resurrected on the current site. In the past promises have been made to re-locate to Buchans ,Harbour Grace and Bell Island.

Relocating the prison to another municipality would mean an influx of direct jobs and service opportunities. Already the jousting has begun. Harbour Grace says there is an outstanding promise to build the new facility there. St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe says it should remain in the capital city where the support infrastructure already exists.

I am inclined to look for a compromise that meets the objectives of providing a humane, safe environment for both correctional staff and inmates, with access to hospitals, support services and airports.

Despite the Alcatraz comparisons, it makes sense to relocate the facility to Bell Island, in Conception Bay. 

The area needs an economic anchor, there is lots of affordable land, taxpayers are already subsidizing the operation of two ferries that make the 20-minute run across the tickle, there is a landing strip and a hospital and it is only a 20-minute drive to the city to the ferry terminal at Bell Island. 

While they are it, government should consider building new facilities for the incarceration of women and youth. All of this could easily be incorporated on Bell Island.

Why would the government not look at ways of making rural communities more sustainable by spreading out the opportunities provided by public jobs and infrastructure? 

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