The Situation in Canada

Canada has traditionally been antagonistic to the notion of private prisons (Harding, 1997). In 1995, the federal Solicitor General stated that he was not considering privatizing federal prisons. Although Canadians continue to regard imprisonment-for-profit as odd and inhumane, distinct signs have emerged that privatization could become an important issue in Canadian corrections. Some people wonder if private jails, on a small scale, may have a place in Canada. Canadian officials have continued to embrace ideologies and practices of privatization. Meanwhile, the American correctional companies have also been busy staking out new Canadian turf while continuing to intensely lobby Canadian officials for contracts (McMahon, 1997).

In 1994, New Brunswick committed to the construction and operation of a new secure facility for young offenders. The favoured bidder was the American-based Wackenhut Corporation. In the original deal (“lease back program”), Wackenhut was to build the facility and finally contract it back to the province. However, in June of 1995, the contract was placed on “hold” and later certain details of the contract were changed. Wackenhut completed the facility in November, 1997, but they were denied official contracting for programming. “This experience seems to demonstrate that only intensive promotion will convince the citizenry that such an approach is appropriate” (Grimard, 1996, p. 3).

In 1996, the Nova Scotia government announced it would be going into partnership with a private company to reform its prison system. Major reforms of Nova Scotia’s prison system have been recommended for decades. To date, no construction has commenced; however, the site for the facility has been narrowed down to one or two possibilities.

Ontario’s pro-privatization Harris government is keeping the door open for privatization. The Auditor General found that Ontario’s prison system is, on average, overstaffed and inefficiently managed (Payne, 1996b). In the fall of 1997, the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services presented its concept for the Alternative Service Delivery of correctional facility operations as a means of reducing the cost while maintaining the same level of security and programming of correctional services in Ontario. There was no formal tender for bids at that time. Although the Ontario government’s plan to build the so-called “superjails” has met with protest, there are plans for five of the new megaprisons. A paper submitted by the John Howard Society of Ontario to the Solicitor General showed that principled and consistent use of parole and temporary absence along with halfway houses and other community programs could save the government the same $80 million annually that it hopes to save through superjail construction.

Alberta also actively considered private jails, but the Klein government did not proceed with the pilot project. Alberta’s then Justice Minister Brian Evans appointed a 13-member committee of corrections staff, telling them he would reconsider privatization if they could find $11 million in savings, or 10 percent of the corrections budget. The committee members estimated their suggestions would save $9.8 million. Justice Minister Brian Evans was quoted saying “We’ll continue to look at better, more efficient, more effective ways that we can deliver service but...we are not considering privatization at this time” (Gold, 1996).