There has been high hopes since last week about reversing the government’s decision to close Sarnia Jail when it was reported Sarnia-Lambton provincial Liberal candidate Anne-Marie Gillis was “extremely encouraged” after emerging from an impromptu meeting on Aug. 22 with Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur.
At a 2 p.m. news conference today outside the Christina Street jail that optimism was affirmed by Minister Meilleur who said the decision was made because of growing capacity issues and the federal government’s nominal ‘tough on crime’ agenda.
Meilleur said since the decision to close the jail was made two years ago, capacity issues have increased pressure on our correctional system. She was quick to add, however, that her ministry has been listening to the concerns of the community saying both she and Premier Kathleen Wynne have met with community leaders and their concerns were heard loud and clear.
The Sarnia Jail was put on the chopping block in March of 2011 after the provincial government claimed that the local facility was being under-utilized, saying local inmates would be driven back and forth to a new “super jail” in Windsor.
At the news conference, Meilleur personally thanked Dave McPhail and the grass-roots Sarnia Save the Jail committee that he chairs remarking that without their hard work the decision to keep the jail open might not have happened.
The decision to close the local jail was met with strong resistance by community leaders and elected officials contending that axing the local jail was a bad decision and didn’t make sense for this community.
MPP Bob Bailey asked Wynne, in an open letter to her office in February, to personally review a government decision that would, if unchanged, see the Sarnia Jail closed next year where he also expressed hoped the Premier would meet with the Sarnia Save the Jail committee during her review process.
Bailey told Wynne that “the ultimate authority to address this issue lies in your office.”
He called the Sarnia Jail one of the most advanced, secure, and cost effective correctional facilities in the province, asserting the decision to close it would cost more because of additional costs that had not been adequately addressed.“Today’s announcement is a testament to the tireless advocacy by the Sarnia Save the Jail Committee and everyone in the community who voiced their opposition to this Liberal government’s decision to close the jail,” said Bailey.
“The decision to close the Sarnia Jail was short-sighted, did not make economic sense and did not fit within a strategy to meet Ontario’s correctional needs.”
Bailey strongly criticized the closure when it was announced, going on record early on that the planned closure would be stopped.
After this afternoon’s announcement, Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark congratulated Bailey on Twitter for “leading the charge to keep the Sarnia Jail open.”
Local jail union representative Dave Esser, who has led the employee union’s charge against the decision, said he and the staff were happy about today’s announcement and told reporters local correctional employees can finally breathe easy.
Sarnia Save the Jail Committee Chairman Dave McPhail, after hearing the decision, said it was a great win for Sarnia-Lambton.
As recent as May this year, Premier Wynne was still showing no sign of changing her position when she again told reporters the decision to close the Sarnia Jail was final.
Then while visiting Sarnia-Lambton in July, Wynne’s public stance on the issue appeared to soften and she agreed to meeting with our community leaders in Toronto.
Today’s welcomed announcement by Minister Meilleur marks a significant shift on the issue and an ostensible win for Sarnia-Lambton in its fight to keep the local jail open, bringing closure to two and a half years of a hoping for the best but expecting the worse.