Kingston Penitentiary Closure

Kingston Penitentiary, KPLast week the local community was taken aback by an announcement made by the federal government that Kingston Penitentiary, the oldest maximum security prison in Canada, home to the likes of Russell Williams, Paul Bernardo, Mohammad and Hamed Shafia and others, as well as the Regional Treatment Centre will soon be closing. While the news shocked Correctional Services Canada employees and residents throughout the Limestone City, what is more disconcerting is that the announcement caught local community leaders completely by surprise.  In a press conference held at City Hall shortly after the Public Safety Minister Vic Toews confirmed the rumours, Mayor Gerretsen stated that he learned of the pending closure via social media, while he went on to comment that it was disappointing.  Ted Hsu also did not mince words, releasing a statement that condemned the closure:

Today’s unexpected announcement fits the pattern of a cloud of secrecy surrounding the federal government’s budget…the Kingston area did not have any chance to provide input on the budget because they had no idea that the closure of Kingston Pen was in the works. A government cannot be open and accountable if major announcements are only made after debate has occurred… The minister has said that there will be savings of $120 million from the closures. I challenge the minister to produce the data and analysis to back up that claim…

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In the wake of the announcement regarding KP, many have been fixated on the future of this historic slice of Kingston’s waterfront.  Speculators have proposed transforming the maximum security prison into everything from an Alcatraz-styled tourist attraction, expanded museum, home to another department from Queen’s University, and even a high rise condominium, hotel and casino.  While the development of Kingston Pen will undoubtedly spark as many fireworks as the cancellation of the Prison Farm program, let’s not forget the estimated 450 local CSC employees whose jobs are presently hanging in the balance.  Although Toews suggested that these jobs would be distributed amongst other, soon to be expanded institutions in the area, the plan has not been shared nor guaranteed.  While KEDCO’s CEO predicts that “the impact on the economy should be fairly minimal”, at this early stage it remains to be seen how the closure of KP will impact the Limestone City.

What are your thoughts on the closure of KP? Do you believe that the logic used by federal government is sound, and that the financial savings justify the decision?  Or do you suspect Kingston may have been targeted because we’re not a Conservative riding?  And what of the future of Kingston Pen and its employees? Drop off your comments below.

Thanks to haven’t the slightest for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

14 thoughts on “Kingston Penitentiary Closure

  • Well, clearly the Pen should have been closed years ago. But that doesn't mean that what replaces it is going to be better. There's no sign that this government understands criminal justice or cares about the kinds of policies that might lead to fewer people going to prison in the first place. They lie about crime figures, try to whip up populist sentiment, advocate US-style 'supermax' institutions, and cut funding for social programs. There are even murmurs about prison privatization, which would be the disaster that it has been in the USA.

  • There’s more to the decision than money. It’s my understanding that it’s difficult to keep both staff and prisoners safe in KP. I don’t believe the decision had anything to do with being a Liberal riding. Seeing the development of other prisons in the area, job loss should be minimized.

    I’m looking forward to gaining waterfront access and hopefully appropriate public use of the site. This may also help to finally get maintenance at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.

    • I think you are a bit naive. Did you attend candidate meetings during the last election. I did and guards were there and were told by the PC candidate that she would be adding jobs and expanding capacity in this riding if elected,…. note IF. This is so Harper like. Note the way this was brought forward. The record of this government has been sad to say the least over the past several years.

      • Oh I was most definitely there when the PC candidate accused Kingstonians of living in a silo. Promising specifics during a campaign without knowledge of facts is a dangerous road to travel. A candidate can't add jobs all by herself, it's a team effort.

        Sometimes change is a good thing, I can see lots of good possibilities with this announcement.

  • This decision is actually a good one (something I never thought I'd hear myself saying about the current government) The buildings are so old and outdated that they can't be further changed to enhanced health, safety and security concerns. And the very ground of the place is so saturated with pain and sorrow, and violence and hatred and all kinds of other bad cess that it can't usefully continue to house troubled people (on both sides of the bars) That said, It's been listed as heritage site or some similar designation (can't make brain work this morning, too shocked by snow on ground) and thus will likely have to remain in essentially the same configuration as it is now.

    I would VERY much like to see a major "closing ceremony", in which members of all faith groups had a chance to perform cleansing rituals, singing, smudges, and whatever else is on offer, and help to exorcise all the evil and pain and sorrow from that place. WITH members of the public in attendance, and preferably with music and eats, and the whole thing that such a public event should have. This ceremony should also include members of the inmate population (not necessarily all who currently live there, but at least some)

    Then, and only then, I'd prefer to see it given over to a combination of prison museum and bed and breakfast, with possible other complementary uses. This would free up the quite wonderful Warden's Residence, which currently houses the Prison Museum in too-tight quarters, for some other use for which it might be more suitable — possibly some sort of use allied with the training facility right nearby? KP is a significant piece of our Canadian heritage (not all of it salutary) and we can't remember it from pictures, we need to remember what is ACTUALLY there (some of you who haven't been inside there might be surprised, in both positive and negative ways)

    Whatever is done, it should NOT NOT NOT be another ugly waterfront condo building (and yes, they are ALL ugly! And they block the view of everyone else)

    • These inmates caused pain and suffering to families across this nation long before they went to jail.The jail keeps you safe your childeren and other loved ones from the pain they inflicted on others. If you want to see real sorrow, hatred, and pain, you could certainly take some of these beauties into your home and give it your best go to convert them.

  • While there is not much I wouldn't put past the current Conservative government I do not believe the closure of the Kingston Penitentiary is their way of punishing us for electing a Liberal MP. The Kingston Penitentiary is old, decrepit, and simply not a suitable environment for the effective management of the current prison population. And savings, if there are any, are certainly an important factor in justifying the closure. The closure is a fait accompli and the question we should be asking ourselves is "now what?" There is the famous quote from Alexander Graham Bell that says "when one door closes another opens" and that is surely the case here. "Alcatraz North" ??? why not? It could become a huge tourist attraction for the City. Alcatraz in San Francisco gets well over a million visitors a year – (not that we want that many) . Access for visitors driving to Kingston could not be better … exit off the 417 and follow Sir John A. MacDonald Blvd right to the front door. As I mentioned in a previous comment it would be the perfect home for an expanded Penitentiary Museum as well as a hotel or hostel (they did it in Ottawa with the old Jail) and a restaurant or two. It would also open up a valuable piece of Kingston's waterfront. Kingston should take this opportunity and run with it.

  • Closure effects 600 staff and roughly 600 offenders. Currently no place to put max offenders, aging offenders, mentally I’ll offenders, and sick offenders. No plans for new treatment area, no plans for new regional hospital that is currently housed in kp, minimal max beds planned at Collins bay. Yes, buildings are old, but no there were no issues managing current population. If money is the issue why are they continuing to pour money into both buildings even after the announcement? The whole thing is poorly thought out and planned. Knee jerk reaction that will surely fail. Effects of bill C10 should be interesting in June.

  • The Regional Treatment Centre is within the walls of KP for treating inmates with mental illness. I read that it has 3 Drs. ,28 nurses, 6 Psychologists,3 Social workers and 2 Occupational Therapists, who all have been given notice.

    How will this special group be managed?

    I have also heard that within the walls of KP is CSC “Regional Hospital”. What is their capacity? What do they handle? What is the consequence of it closing or will it be set up at another facility. I assume it would have to be within a maximum security Institution,but where?

    Does Vic know? Does anyone know?

  • The Kingston Penitentiary will be transferred to the Canada Lands Company, a Crown corporation that privatizes federal buildings and land, and sells the property to developers. KP will be demolished, and the land sold to condo builders. Canada Lands Company gutted the Old War Museum on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, a Classified Federal Heritage Building, and sold the property to the Aga Khan. The de Havilland Aircraft Building at Downsview may be demolished, and the Crown corporation planned to convert the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Pen in Laval, Quebec into apartments; now the Heritage Buildings are abandoned and decaying.

    • While I may not lose any sleep over the Kingston Penitentiary closing as a correctional institution I am certainly prepared to join any protest over the possible demolition of the buildings on the site. I was under the impression it was a designated Heritage site but I do not know what real protection that offers. Might the City of Kingston consider buying the property and developing it in such a manner as to preserve the Heritage value and still realize some economic benefits to the city? I would hope so.

  • According to an October 2007 report, "Strengthening Public Safety – Report of the Correctional Service of Canada Review Panel":
    1.) A huge,new prison complex will be built in Kingston, Ontario, and "the complex would be populated from the consolidation of six existing institutions- – -Pittsburgh; Joyceville; Warkworth; the Regional Treatment Centre; Kingston Penitentiary and Millhaven." (From: Page 197). The private sector will have an important role in the construction of the new prison.. Older facilities that have outserved their usefulness will be decommissioned.
    2.) Joyceville and Pittsburgh Institution farmland could be worth $2 million dollars, while the sale of the Regional Headquarters could net $17 million dollars.
    3.) Warkworth Penitentiary will be demolished. Kingston Pen will remain a heritage property, while Millhaven will remain CSC property.
    The Canada Lands Company, the Crown corporation that privatizes federal buildings and land, will probably liquidate the entire real estate portfolio of Corrections Canada.

  • On April 19, 2012, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said that Kingston Penitentiary, the Regional Treatment Centre and the Leclerc Institution will be closed because they are outdated "and their infrastructure is crumbling". However, the federal government's own documents prove that most of the buildings at KP and Leclerc are in "good" condition. Google the website "Federal Directory of Real Property" and where it says "Search for properties and buildings by Number", type in "09477" (KP) and 06929 (Leclerc). Many government buildings in Ottawa are in fair, poor or critical condition, but Library and Archives Canada, the Revenue Canada Building, the Conference Centre and the RCMP Headquarters at 1200 Vanier Parkway will never be demolished or privatized.

  • Hello,
    I think the Kingston pen should be used for trade fairs, such as boat shows and boat storage rentals.The Olympic Harbor is steps away.Instead of going to Toronto to the boat shows, why not Kingston? Where else would you want to attend a boat show where this area is considered to be one of the best sailing waters (locations) in the world?
    Forget the idea for a hotel, we have hotels in Kingston that need the business, who wants to stay in a place with such negative energies?
    If we need more prison space, why not tear Kingston Pen down and use the material to build a new one. There seems to be enough open fields on the site of Collins Bay Prison for another facility.

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