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An Open Letter to Premier Wynne Regarding the Sarnia Jail

Premier Kathleen Wynne
Legislative Building
Room 281
Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A1A1

Dear Premier Wynne:

I am writing to you in regard to an issue of paramount importance to the people in my riding of Sarnia-Lambton.  I believe that the ultimate authority to address this issue lies in your office; as such I respectfully request your full and undivided attention to this urgent matter.

On March 30, 2011 the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services (MCSCS) informed my office that the Sarnia Jail would be closed and its operations shifted to a jail being built in the former Liberal Finance Minister’s riding of Windsor-Tecumseh.  Since the announcement, the Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services has repeatedly claimed that the prison is “underutilized”, however on most days all beds are full. The Sarnia Jail is consistently at or over capacity, and by no stretch of the imagination is our jail “underutilized”.  In fact, last May I had to warn the Minister of MCSCS of the dangerous levels of overcrowding at the Sarnia Jail.

Further, internal documents from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and your own party messaging, describe the jail as being from the Victorian era, and compare our community to one running on oil lamps and using horse and buggy transportation. As anyone who is familiar with my community or the facility in question could attest, these comments obviously reflect an ignorance of the Sarnia Jail and the community of Sarnia-Lambton.

For the record, the Sarnia Jail is one of the most advanced, secure, and cost effective correctional facilities in the province. Sarnia is one of the only jails in Ontario with no transportation costs associated with moving inmates to and from court. The jail and the courthouse are connected by a short underground tunnel, so the inmates walk to and from the jail to appear before court with no risk to public safety. Annually, almost 3000 inmates pass between the jail and the courthouse at no extra cost to the municipality, taxpayers or the province.  Now inmates will be taxied by Ontario Provincial Police officers on a daily basis from Windsor to Sarnia – a five hour round trip.  Analysts predict this will add millions to the cost of prisoner supervision in the region, squandering money that the province cannot afford.

Moreover, the proposed closure of the Sarnia jail will cost 76 employees their job in Sarnia and result in a loss of over $6 million to the local Sarnia-Lambton community, while at the same time downloading more than $3 million in court security and transportation costs to the Municipality.

Finally, in making this decision not a single discussion about the current jail or the impacts of decommissioning was held with any resident or representative of Sarnia-Lambton.  People in my community view this lack of outreach as a slight by your government and further evidence that the opinions of residents in Ontario only matter to the McGuinty-Wynne Liberal Government if those residents live in the major urban centres in our province.

In the spirit of your new government, and your stated desire to open a dialogue with those communities, like Sarnia-Lambton, that were abandoned by Premier McGuinty during his time as Premier, I respectfully request that you immediately begin an open and transparent review of the decision to close the Sarnia Jail.  Community leaders from Sarnia-Lambton and the Save the Sarnia Jail Committee are willing and able to meet with you at your convenience to discuss the short sighted and unilateral decision to close the Sarnia Jail.

To assist you in starting a productive conversation with the Save the Sarnia Jail Committee I am willing to host a meeting, at your convenience, in my office at Queen’s Park.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Sincerely,

Bob Bailey, MPP
Sarnia-Lambton