Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
KEMPTVILLE — Attempts to block construction of a 235-bed regional prison in Kemptville aren’t simply a NIMBY reaction, opponents maintain: They don’t want the prison in anybody’s backyard!
As demonstrated during a Zoom webinar Tuesday evening, the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) has adopted a strategy of condemning any new correctional facility as the wrong approach in dealing with lawbreakers. The emphasis should be on rehabilitation, something prisons are poorly equipped to provide.
The meeting consensus was that opponents shouldn’t be seen as just “anti” but also as pro healthy communities.
Entitled “New Building, Old Problems”, the webinar featured a roster of speakers opposed to incarceration who presented their reasons why. Providing the most powerful comments was former Ottawa-Carleton Regional Detention Centre (OCRDC) inmate Vanessa – no last name provided – who said the only time in her troubled life she considered suicide was while locked up.
Vanessa, a poet, underlined the irony of boycotting cages for circus animals while society consents to hold human beings in them: “How could I stay afloat in society when I’ve been encouraged to drown,” she recited.
It was the second online session delivered by CAPP, the first occurring early in December. As with the most recent meeting, the first featured a collection of speakers with similar specializations speaking mostly against the concept of imprisonment.
Before hearing from the invited guests including university lecturers and Elizabeth Fry Society representatives, CAPP leader Colleen Lynas outlined some of the other reasons a substantial portion of Kemptville residents oppose the quarter billion dollar project intended to take some of the load off aging, crowded OCRDC.
Claiming its members have been mostly silent lately, Lynas also wondered about the current position of North Grenville council on the issue. Mayor Nancy Peckford hasn’t condemned the plan, waiting to see what benefits might be in line for her municipality.
The project was announced last August as part of a provincial government overhaul of the prisoner accommodation system including construction of a second new jail in Brockville and upgrades to three others.
The Kemptville prison site is 180 acres of prime agricultural land including several farm buildings across the highway from municipally owned Kemptville Campus, a multi-purpose education centre. Council had previously indicated an interest in acquiring the land which will make up part of the parcel for the 2022 International Plowing Match.
Lynas complained that the prison decision was “cooked up” without public consultation and that the project is pushing forward without transparency. It’s to be built on farmland which forms an integral part of local and area heritage, threatening to turn Kemptville into a “prison town” and ruin the commonly held vision for its idyllic future.
In addition, the Solicitor General has failed to demonstrate significant economic benefits arising from the prison with most jobs going to existing OCRDC staff who can easily commute from Ottawa neighbourhoods where they now reside. Another complaint is that North Grenville has insufficient sewer, water and road infrastructure to support the prison.
Ultimately, CAPP doesn’t want to see Kemptville’s future “forever tied to a failed correctional system” bogged down by endless remand and bail hearing dates, with the government constantly trying to reduce the prison population and finally enjoying some success during the pandemic.
“Rather than building a new jail at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and over the objections of Kemptville residents, all we need to do is hold the government to its promise to keep the remand population down.”