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An Open Letter to Premier Wynne Regarding the Sarnia Jail

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

Dear Premier Wynne:

Since it was announced in March 2011 that the Liberal Government would close the safe and efficient Sarnia Jail in favour of taxiing inmates back and forth for hundreds of kilometres to the untried Southwest Detention Centre in Windsor, ON, your government has insisted that this illogical plan would somehow ensure taxpayer money isn’t wasted (as it was on cancelling the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants).

That is why it was concerning to read the comments of Ministry of Corrections Deputy Director Cathy Morris in the Sarnia Observer on Friday, May 24 2013.  Ms. Morris, who is described as a senior staffer with the Ministry of Correctional Services and is in part responsible for the transition to the facility in Windsor, stated that the Ministry actually has no idea of how high the extra costs of transporting prisoners will be.  In fact, Ms. Morris says that it is impossible to even, “guesstimate” the cost of transportation.

Further, Ms. Morris indicates that the responsibility for thousands of inmate transports each year “could” belong to the OPP, the highest paid police force in the province.  This would be an expensive choice for a government intent on saving money. But, Ms. Morris also speculates that the job “might” fall to the Sarnia police, who will already be required to hire additional officers to supervise the increased number of inmates that will be waiting in the courthouse for their appearance.  This is a further waste of municipal resources and completely unnecessary since the current design of the Sarnia Jail and courthouse allows near immediate transfer of prisoners from their cells through a totally secure fifty-foot underground tunnel. 

This complete uncertainty surrounding the proposed closing of the jail reeks of your government’s track record for back of the envelop planning and decision making.  It is no wonder our province has acquired such an outrageous debt load after a decade of Liberal overspending.

Moreover, despite repeated requests by numerous officials in Sarnia-Lambton, no one has seen any real data that supports your assertion that closing the Sarnia Jail will in fact save the province one cent.  To date, your government has relied solely on talking points drafted by your communications department, which groups the 51 year old Sarnia Jail with significantly older Victorian era jails in the province, and misleadingly uses daily cost per inmate data from the Central East Correctional Centre as a example of savings that will be gleaned from the much smaller and more expensive Southwest Detention Centre.

The people in Sarnia-Lambton have grown tired of this stale messaging strategy and your government’s snub of our community.  The Sarnia Save the Jail Committee has provided your government with its own cost analysis and sound reasoning that details why closing the jail is the wrong decision.  Despite these attempts at engagement and dialogue with your government, you continue to refuse to open the decision making process to review.  My own attempt to access documents through a Freedom Of Information request returned nearly 800 pages of redacted, blanked-out emails dealing with little more than grammar and style corrections of government talking points.  Why won’t your government make the requested information available? Does the costing data, as Ms. Morris’s comments suggest, not actually exist?

In the interest of open and accountable government it is imperative that you immediately release to the Save the Jail Committee all of the documents used by your government in making the decision to close the Sarnia Jail, not just your communications talking points.  This is a reasonable request by the people of Sarnia-Lambton who are simply asking to be treated as active participants in the planning and sustainability of their community, not ignored by politicians and bureaucrats who have never, and will never visit our very important corner of the province, or the jail in question.

Premier, recently your government has had to change course and abandon poor decisions you’ve made at ORNGE, in the placement of industrial wind turbines and gas plants, and in gutting the horse racing industry in Ontario. While admitting that your government made another mistake would be difficult, it is not too late to reverse your decision, keep the Sarnia Jail open and ensure that no more money is wasted on another half-baked initiative.  I look forward to your personal response and the immediate release of all un-redacted documents related to the Sarnia Jail closure.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Bob Bailey, MPP
Sarnia-Lambton