The unexpected closing of the Kingston Penitentiary and end of hundreds of jobs there has the city's mayor worried that workers will plan to leave the community.
So far there's little information from the federal government about transfers to four institutions that are expanding in nearby Collins Bay, Pittsburgh, Bath and Frontenac. Mayor Mark Gerretsen said the employees would be able to commute from Kingston but he's concerned they could leave the city while they face uncertainty, creating a loss economically and socially.
Corrections Canada is the city’s third largest employer, said Mr. Gerretsen, so while the full extent of the closure is unknown, the significance hit him immediately on Thursday. He found out on social media after the news leaked hours ahead of the official announcement and his meeting with a deputy commissioner to get the details. The federal government says it will save $120-million annually by closing Kingston Pen and Leclerc Institution in Laval, Que. The Conservatives say the facilities are old and present a challenge for handling prisoners.
“There’s concern and the concern keeps going back to the employees,” said Mr. Gerretsen, 36, who grew up near the maximum-security penitentiary, which is on the lake not far from the city’s downtown.
“It’s not a huge municipality, six degrees of separation in Kingston are about two degrees so odds are you know somebody who knows somebody that’s going to be affected by this.”
Mr. Gerretsen said that although the penitentiary has been open since 1835 and has housed notorious inmates including Russell Williams and Paul Bernardo, the history is the last of his worries.
“The history of the building, yeah there’s a lot of rich history there and the stories will be told for many, many decades and years to come,” he said, noting it’s a heritage building , guaranteeing preservation. “We can worry about that later, right now we have to worry about the employees and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Patty Ducharme, national executive vice president at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said there are 300 positions in Kingston that will be affected.
As cars drove on King Street, past the penitentiary, many honked at the workers gathered outside and the corrections officers headed in to start the evening shift. Early in the afternoon, shortly after the official announcement but hours after word of the closure spread through the institution, about a hundred gathered outside.
“I’m still in shock, most of us are,” said Robert McMullen, a corrections officer in the Regional Treatment Centre that’s housed within the institution.
Mr. McMullen, who is also president of the RTC union, said he’s especially concerned about the inmates with mental illnesses that stay within the treatment centre.
“The inmate is different, both at KP and RTC, they may not play well with others in other jails,” he said. “I don’t think the top brass have really thought it through... this is kind of the end of the line for a lot of inmates.”
Mr. McMullen and Mike DesLauriers, a corrections officer, said they’re still waiting for a lot of answers about what will happen to the inmates and what job opportunities they’ll have themselves at nearby institutions.
“There are a lot of people who are going to be sad, there are people who spent their whole careers here,” said Mr. DesLauriers, who is president of the local union for corrections officers. “We all have a lot of questions.”
The entire city is affected by the news, said Mr. DesLauriers, who started working at the institution after his father and uncles worked there. But worst than that, he said, is facing the breakup of tight knit community that works at the penitentiary.
“The people that I work with, I count on them to keep my life safe every single day,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to move on from the people that we work with, you place your life in somebody’s hands every shift you work.”
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