The new jail has officially opened.
Inmates moved into the $70-million high-efficiency building last Thursday.
And with just more than 100 inmates taking over space for 190, the individual cells and crisp, new living space should help boost morale and smooth out internal tensions.
For NDP justice critic, Lois Moorcroft, the move could not have happened soon enough.
“The need for a new Whitehorse correction centre is decades old,” she said.
The old building was a human rights violation, she said, adding it was common for inmates to sleep on mattresses on the floor when there were not enough beds.
That did happen, but only when capacity topped 120, Department of Justice spokesman Dan Cable confirmed. There are no plans for spare mattresses in the new facility.
The new building is also much more high-tech, said Cable. Everything from its regular maintenance systems to state-of-the-art security systems run from a motherboard of computers.
A new ion scanner will greet visitors at the door, the government said in a news release Monday.
All visitors are subject to the scanner, which can “detect minute amounts of illegal drugs or explosives on a person, on an article of clothing or in a package or envelope,” the release said.
The results of the scan could mean visitors may be turned away or their packages could be refused.
But despite the bells and whistles, a building is just a building, said Moorcroft.
While she is cautiously pleased with the new centre, the Opposition critic is still awaiting a response from Justice Minister Mike Nixon for details on “new and improved” programming being offered at the new facility, she said.
For the most part, programming will be the same as it was at the old jail, said Cable.
Drug and alcohol, anger management, spousal abuse, mental health and sex offender programming are still being offered as they were in the old building, he said. So are spiritual and cultural activities for men and women, which include church, drum-making, sewing and traditional medicines. The college will continue to offer upgrading courses right at the prison.
At the request of the elders advisory committee, work programs will continue to be offered inside and outside the prison’s walls. The elders will be welcome to visit with the inmates, as they always have, Cable said.
One of the jail’s longest running programs that helps inmates earn their culinary ticket will continue to be offered as well.
The only new program in the works is one on cognitive skills, said Cable. It helps people recognize habitual behavior and triggers so they can try and change their ways.
That’s the point of all of the jail’s programming, no matter what building they are in, said Cable.
“We don’t offer programs, necessarily, that the inmates think they want, because we’re in the business of dealing with specific thing, like the things that lead them to offend,” he said.
“We will offer academic programs and other kinds of programs to help them reintegrate back into the community. But those are secondary to dealing with their criminogenic needs.”
But despite real changes to programming, what is offered will be better, Cable assured.
“In the new facility, we’re going to be able to offer those programs more readily because the facility’s much better for that,” he said.
Among other things, classroom space has been built right alongside the inmates’ individual cells, said Cable. As well, the staff have undergone more training to help them interact more holistically with the inmates.
The old facility and its management was constrained because of how the building was laid out, Cable said.
Dormitories were separate and inmates had to be moved to participate in any programming, whether it was one-on-one, individual or group work.
“The new facility lends itself much more to individually-tailored programming, plus better group programming as well,” Cable said. “It’s just a way better facility.”
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