Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Pubdate: Monday, 22 June 1998
Author: TRACEY TYLER Toronto Star  Staff Reporter


Officials meet today over future of treatment for prisoners

Three-quarters of Ontario's treatment centres for inmates appear
headed for shutdown under the province's jail restructuring plan.

Provincial and federal officials plan to hold their first meeting
today over the future of the latest casualty on the list, the
acclaimed Northern Treatment Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

A spokesperson for the Ontario solicitor-general's ministry insists
that treatment for inmates with drug, anger and sex abuse problems
will be improved and expanded, starting with centres to be
incorporated into three new superjails in Milton, Lindsay and

But critics worry that treatment administered in a conventional jail
setting, where the inducements for relapse can be powerful, won't be
as effective as the centres already set up to deal exclusively with
offenders' problems.

Some doubt the new centres will even be set up.

``I take this commitment to treatment in superjails with a grain of
salt,'' said Sault Ste. Marie MPP Tony Martin. He is also worried
about the potential loss of 147 jobs at the Northern Treatment Centre,
located in a city with 20 per cent unemployment.

``It's all well and good for them to say they're going to put
treatment into superjails, but why would you want to dismantle
something that's working?''

The Northern Treatment Centre is unique in that its $8.2 million
annual operating costs are shared jointly by the provincial and
federal governments. At any time, up to half its 96 patients are
inmates serving terms of two years or more in the federal penitentiary

If the centre closes, those federal inmates will have no comparable
place to go in Ontario for treatment of drug and alcohol abuse,
domestic violence and anger management problems. One component of the
centre deals exclusively with native offenders.

The solicitor-general's ministry has already announced it intends to
close the Ontario Correctional Institute - an award-winning treatment
centre in Brampton - as well as the Guelph Correctional Centre, which
also has treatment facilities.

Ministry spokesperson Ross Virgo said he didn't want to speculate on
the future of a fourth treatment centre, outside Ottawa.

However, Virgo said ``there are going to be changes to the adult
correctional system in Northern Ontario and other parts of the
province.'' The goal is to eliminate inefficiencies, he said.

In a recent letter to Sault MP Carmen Provenzano, federal
Solicitor-General Andy Scott said the province gave notice on April 16
that it wants to terminate the joint operating agreement effective
Sept. 1.

The agreement, signed by Ottawa and Queen's Park 10 years ago, called
for fines if the contract is broken with less than two years' notice.

The meeting between the Correctional Service of Canada and Queen's
Park is ``to discuss the early termination of this agreement and the
penalty the province must pay to Canada, as a result of its failure to
provide the two-year notice,'' Scott said.

But Virgo said the province is not aiming for a Sept. 1 shutdown.
``All we said is we want to sit down and talk to them about the

Andy Simmons, the employment assistance co-ordinator for the John
Howard Society of Kingston, an organization that works with offenders,
said if the province closes the northern centre ``I think they're
losing one of their few success stories.''

It works in part because inmates who agree to be separated from their
families to attend treatment in the north have already committed to
change, Simmons said.

``There's a hell of a commitment involved in going to the Northern

Treatment Centre. In its own way, it's rougher than most of the
federal pens.''

The therapeutic environment is difficult to duplicate through the
``shotgun efforts'' in regular jails, where inmates attend treatment
programs then return to their cellblocks, he added. Drug use there can
be rampant.

But Virgo said the new treatment centres will be better for inmates
precisely because they won't have to travel far from their families.

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