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Proposed jail facility in Fredericton sparks backlash from locals

Proposed jail facility in Fredericton sparks backlash from locals thumbnail

A new jail facility is being considered in New Brunswick’s capital and residents aren’t happy.

The entrance to the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.The new jail would work to alleviate overcrowding in facilities like this one.
The entrance to the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.The new jail would work to alleviate overcrowding in facilities like this one. Credit: Google Maps

The proposed Fredericton Correctional Centre has been recommended by the Department of Justice of Public Safety (JPS). The new jail would be built on the site of the Vanier Industrial Park.

A Planning Advisory Committee meeting in December saw an outpouring of opposition to the proposal in the form of dozens of letters by residents, calling the move “unjust” while also raising concerns about the devaluation of homes in the area and the safety of community members.

According to the meeting’s minutes, the JPS “studied the trends and the current situation facing adult correctional facilities” and ultimately favoured the construction and development of a new facility in the Fredericton region. 

The recommendation cited “increased crime trends” as well as the “increased response of law enforcement.”

The decision to respond to what officials claim to be a rise in crime has received backlash from residents who believe the city’s priorities are out of touch with the needs of constituents. 

The province states that the new facility will “help relieve capacity pressures” on other jails across New Brunswick — particularly at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

According to the report, submitted by Senior Planner for the City of Fredericton Tony Dakiv, jail facilities in the province are regularly seeing an average of 620 inmates per day.

Some clients, according to Dakiv, are “required to be double bunked” due to overcrowding, as well as more stressful and potentially dangerous environments because of it.

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The proposed facility would include 100 beds in five housing units, with 100 personnel working in the jail. Not only would it lock up people sentenced to jail terms, it would also include those being held in custody who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

PAC rejects rezoning proposal. Will city council do the same?

In November, Fredericton city council narrowly voted six-to-four to sell land at the end of Blizzard Drive to the province for just over $1 million. But in order for the facility to become a reality, rezoning will need to take place. In the meantime, it goes against city zoning laws to build a jail on that piece of land. 

The opposition from Fredericton residents was made loud and clear. On December 14, the city’s Planning Advisory Council (PAC) voted four-to-three recommending city council reject the zoning request.

While officials say their priorities lie on better addressing “cultural identity, mental health and addictions,” Dr. Martha Paynter, author of Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada, isn’t convinced.

In an email to the PAC last month, Paynter outlined the variety of extreme health dangers that not only harm prisoners, but also the communities where they are located.

Paynter, who works directly with women involved in the criminal justice system, noted prisons are “rife with mental illness, chronic disease, infection, violence and injury.”

Paynter noted that between the physical harms of incarceration, from malnutrition, injury, infection, and loss of muscle mass, and the “enduring trauma of family separation, prison violence, and the stigma of criminalization,” harms in prison always find their way back to communities. 

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A form letter submitted by many of those in opposition to the facility pointed out a major contradiction. While officials claim the facility is needed to combat rising drug crimes, the letter argues the notion “makes no sense,” due to the fact that “trafficking sentences would be served in the Federal system.”

“All signs indicate that the prison will be targeting the most vulnerable members of our communities: people with mental illness who live in poverty,” the letter to the PAC reads. “To allow a prison would directly support the criminalization of vulnerable populations who were not born with enough luck and privilege.”

An accompanying petition has been signed by more than 800 people, according to the clerk at the January 9 Fredericton city council meeting.

Those in opposition of the facility point out that the location is within a two kilometre radius of at least 700 current homes, with the closest being under one kilometre away. With planned and approved housing developments being built in the area, the nearest residence would eventually be under 500 metres away, and within the radius of over 1,000 homes.

Chris Collins, who appeared at the meeting on behalf of the petition group, noted most residents they spoke to had no idea a jail facility was being considered in the area. Others thought the PAC rejection vote meant the matter was over with.

Monday marked the first and second readings of the proposal by city council. A third reading and subsequent vote are scheduled for January 23, where a decision will be made whether to allow the jail to be built.

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Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred…
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