Move to new Whitehorse jail delayed

The move from the current Whitehorse jail to the new, $70-million building next door is taking a little longer than expected. Justice officials first said the new jail would be occupied by late January.

The move from the current Whitehorse jail to the new, $70-million building next door is taking a little longer than expected.

Justice officials first said the new jail would be occupied by late January. Then they said mid-February.

Now they’re not making a firm commitment of any kind.

“We’re saying, soon,” said Dan Cable, spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

“It’s virtually ready to go. But there’s a bunch of things that they’re doing – going through an enormous checklist of stuff that needs to be confirmed and it’s taking time. They are working through that checklist and hopefully soon.”

He said the new facility is a lot more technical than the current jail.

With multiple systems for security and general maintenance come multiple computers and software programs, he said. They not only need to be checked, but staff needs to be trained. That’s taking longer than anticipated.

The new phone system is one of the complicated new installations.

Inmates will still have regular access to a phone, but they’re going to have to pay and there are other changes to the way it will work.

The phone system will identify that the call is coming from an inmate at the jail, Cable said. Although the rate is still being negotiated with the phone company, it will most likely cost about $1 per call.

This is about what inmates can earn each day doing “encouraged” work, like laundry or cleaning or by participating in programs and treatment, Cable said.

“The inmates will pay for outgoing calls like a pay phone,” he said. “Unless it’s an emergency, they’ll have to pay out of their own funds. We have a government rate on long-distance and there’ll be a rate established by the phone company for it and they’ll know how many minutes they’ll have if they plunk in whatever change they have.”

The new phone system should also be able to disconnect any attempts to call specific numbers by specific inmates, he said. That’s to prevent inmates from calling people the court has ordered them not to contact.

“Privileged” calls, meaning calls to lawyers or caseworkers, the ombudsman, police or the prison’s complaints office, will still be free, Cable said.

Charging for use of the phone is not uncommon for inmates across Canada.

Of the four facilities in the Northwest Territories, three have some sort of payment scheme, said a spokesperson for its Justice Department.

The facilities in Fort Smith and Hay River both sell calling cards at their canteens while the North Slave Correctional Centre has an automatic withdrawal system pegged at $0.11/minute, she said.

The youth jail doesn’t charge for calls but it does limit them to three, 10-minute calls per week.

Rosemary Rowlands, who is with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Yukon, said she hopes the new Whitehorse system doesn’t stop or deter inmates from connecting with the outside world.

“It’s important to reduce barriers to connecting to their community, connecting to their family and connecting outside of the jail,” she said.

“It’s a benefit to everybody for them to be able to have contacts outside of there. It’s a benefit to the inmates and it’s also a benefit to the COs up there, for them to have other people to talk to.”

The society regularly gets multiple calls a day from inmates serving time, said Rowlands.

The conversations often help calm down the inmates who may be uncomfortable or unhappy with relationships inside the facility, she said.

Just having someone to talk to helps them know someone is listening and advocating for them, she said.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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