Jennifer Hough | May 25, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 25 12:26 AM ET
Yukon Department of Justice
Yukon Department of JusticeWhitehorse Correctional Centre costs $10-million a year to run, but currently only houses about 70 people, though it has a capacity for 194.
The Office of the Auditor General is probing the operation of Yukon’s $75-million Whitehorse Correctional Centre, which is being branded a failure and a waste of taxpayers’ money by critics.
With a staff of more than 110, the jail costs $10-million a year to run, but currently only houses about 70 people, though it has a capacity for 194. The majority of people in the jail are aboriginal, many of whom have substance abuse problems.
Questions about how justice is delivered in the state-of-the-art jail and the wider community are being asked as part of an audit of the Yukon’s department of justice. The final report will be released in Feb. 2015.
Community groups contend the high-tech prison, which replaced an 85-bed facility, is not what was expected after extensive community consultation prior to building.
If half of the money it took to build it was spent on badly needed housing or addictions services, we would be a lot better off. They turned a community jail into a gulag
First Nation leaders were clear the new corrections centre should be based on rehabilitation and healing and not be punitive in nature.
The new jail is “minimum to maximum” security, and critics say there is no rehabilitation.
Linda Bonnefoy, chair of the Yukon Civil Liberties Association, said the prison seemed to be part of the Conservative government’s plan to build American-style super prisons.
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“If half of the money it took to build it was spent on badly needed housing or addictions services, we would be a lot better off. They turned a community jail into a gulag. It’s a catchall for the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said.
Katherine Alexander, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society in the Yukon, said it was astounding that a next-gen jail of its kind was built in a territory of just 30,000 people.
“This facility warehouses alcoholics and people with social problems but it runs like a high-security prison.”
It is understood the prison is currently looking to recruit federal inmates. A spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said it might be a way to get value for money, and prevent more prison building.
We do not have gangs here or a really violent sector of society. These are people who are trapped in a system that is not meeting their needs
But advocates say federal prisoners are better off where they are as there is very little programming at the Whitehorse jail.
NDP justice critic Lois Moorcroft said the capital construction project needed to be examined. It was expected it would cost the territory $60-million over four or five years but instead cost in excess of $75-million over a longer period.
“The reality of the situation is that we are talking about a core group of people here that need supportive housing and addiction and counseling services and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD),” Ms. Moorcroft said.
“We do not have gangs here or a really violent sector of society. These are people who are trapped in a system that is not meeting their needs.”
The jail has come under fire recently after a prisoner appeared naked during a video court appearance. That man, Michael Nehass, has filed a human rights complaint against the prison. It is understood there are several other cases where people are officially complaining about treatment at the jail, including extreme use of solitary confinement. The prison disputes these claims.
A recent government report on health services in the Yukon found that psychiatric care at the jail, with a high-risk population, is limited to two hours weekly.
The same report states that the Yukon has the highest per capita purchase of alcohol in Canada and that mental health and addictions are having negative impacts on the social, health care and criminal justice systems in the territory.
It found the Yukon lacks services to deal with these issues and an increasing amount of mental health assessments and treatments are being sent out of the territory, at a significant cost to government.