Keewatin residents want regional correction centre

Though some Rankin Inlet residents want a correctional centre in their community, Nunavut justice officials are talking about cheaper, community-based programs.


MONTREAL — Now that the Baffin Correctional Centre is overflowing, and Nunavut inmates being farmed out to the Northwest Territories, some Keewatin residents are suggesting that Nunavut needs another minimum security prison.

The Keewatin Legal Aid Committee would like to see offenders from their region jailed in Rankin Inlet rather than in Iqaluit, or even worse, in Yellowknife.

“It’s a different territory. Why should we support it?” said Rankin Inlet councillor and legal aid committee member Harry Towtongie. “We would like to see a minimum security facility that would house inmates in the Keewatin.”

During his unsuccessful campaign to become a member of Nunavut’s first legislature, Towtongie promised to support the construction of a new corrections facility to be located in Rankin Inlet.

Towntongie is now proposing that the military forward operating location near his community’s airport be transformed into a new jail.

The Canadian defense department is reportedly considering new purposes for its recently-built and infrequently used FOL barracks.

But Nunavut’s deputy minister of justice, Nora Saunders, said her department is taking a step back from the issue of where a jail should be located to consider “what it should be.”

She said that her department intends to take a very close look at how to best approach corrections services in the new territory.

Corrections planning committee

It’s struck a Nunavut corrections planning committee with representatives from Cambridge Bay, Baker Lake, Iqaluit, the Nunavut Social Development Council and Corrections Canada.

One committee member is a former inmate who’s served time in both territorial and federal institutions.

“We think that this government has to be accountable, so it’s important to involve the communities in the planning,” said the assistant deputy minister, Rebecca Williams.

The committee, which has met once since April 1, is planning to meet again in Iqaluit over the weekend. By November, Williams said that the group should have some solid recommendations to submit to Nunavut’s minister of justice, Jack Anawak.

Williams said that one of the options and orientations that the committee will discuss is whether or not Nunavut should have another corrections facility.

“But my vision is a lot wider than that,” she said. “We need to know how we can help the alleged victim and the alleged offender. Our first priority is to help people who are hurting and who hurt other people.”

Although he’s not a member of the corrections planning committee, Nunavut’s chief corrections official is lukewarm to the suggestion that Nunavut needs another jail.

“If you build a jail, it’s going to be full,” said Ron McCormick.

Community-based programs

McCormick, a former social worker, would rather keep people out of jail. He estimates that around half of those now in jail at the Baffin or Yellowknife correctional centres could be better served by community-based programs such as outpost camps.

“We’re not just going to plunk people down in the communities,” he said. “But jail isn’t the answer for everyone.”

McCormick would like the Nunavut corrections system to adopt a more wholistic approach to rehabilitation, rather than sending offenders off to jail.

Since he took over his current position in March, he’s been attempting to revamp the BCC by changing wardens, improving programs, and hiring a new psychologist.

“We need to look at healing,” McCormick said.

Presently, there are approximately 60 inmates each at the BCC, YCC and federal penitentiaries. Those serving sentences of more than two years are in federal institutions.

Those with sentences under two years with a higher level of risk of violent behavior or who require more security from from other prisoners are sent to YCC. A handful of women are at a territorial facility in Hay River.

McCormick said that many inmates could benefit from mental health counselling in their communities, programs that offer personal support, and which generally cost less than building a jail.

“When you’re building an institution like a jail, you don’t see all the costs,” he said. “You have to have monitoring. You even have to have special coat hooks so that people don’t hang themselves. So, with that FLB, you would want to think about what you would need to do to make it suitable.”

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