The New Brunswick government is facing criticisms over its decision to build a new $32 million prison in the Fredericton region. Two experts say that the new prison will not help the province bring down crime.
“New Brunswick does not need a new jail. What most residents in New Brunswick would benefit from is redirecting that $32 million into solving the housing crisis,” said Ardath Whynacht, Associate Professor and Director of the Health Studies Program at Mount Allison University, in an interview with the NB Media Co-op.
Whynacht said that the government’s decision to build a new prison when New Brunswickers are suffering lacks coherence and is a misplaced priority.
“A lot of new Brunswickers are suffering. The cost of food has gone up incredibly in the last year. Folks are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to really reduce the number of folks who end up in jail, what we need to do is prevent a lot of the conditions that lead them towards crime in the first place. We’ll see a much better investment in the health and safety of folks in New Brunswick, if we stop looking to incarceration as the only way to deal with social problems,” she said.
Watch the full interview with Whynacht:
After the Throne Speech that spoke of high crime rates, the Telegraph-Journal’s Andrew Waugh got Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin to admit that the crime claims are based on anecdotes.
Whynacht says the New Brunswick government “doesn’t appear to understand the difference between data and anecdotes.”
“I find that extremely concerning considering that they’re spending millions and millions of dollars worth of public money on policies that are not informed by accurate data,” she said.
In an email statement to the NB Media Co-op, a Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson pointed out that the department “considered the existing network of correctional facilities, their capacity, and their locations when deciding to build a new facility in the Fredericton region.”
The spokesperson sent a data table showing the average monthly capacity counts for the five provincial correctional facilities. “As of yesterday, Nov. 2, there were 511 adult men in custody, while the capacity is 470. This means an over capacity of 41,” said Judy Désalliers for the department.
“The adult male correctional centers are operating at full or over capacity. Operating at or near capacity is not optimal for the health and safety of correctional officers or inmates as it can impact safe population management practices, which a new facility will help alleviate,” said Désalliers.
The spokesperson also told the NB Media Co-op that the reason for choosing Fredericton for the new prison was to “help relieve capacity pressure on other correctional centers, particularly the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.”
‘Building prisons should be a thing of the past’: criminologist
Criminologist Justin Piché argues that the New Brunswick government should spend the $32 million it has allocated to the Fredericton prison on education and early intervention if it wants to make communities safer.
“You also need to look at how you can better address people living with drug use issues and look at increasing harm reduction in drug treatment capacity, and also increasing mental health supports. And I think if you do that, you would have significantly fewer people behind bars. And if you tackle homelessness, you’ll help stop that cycle of people going from homelessness to prisons,” said Piché, Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology and Director of the Carceral Studies Research Collective at the University of Ottawa, in an interview with the NB Media Co-op.
Watch the full interview with Piché:
Piché argues that building a new prison is a flawed approach at making communities safer. “Building prisons should be a thing of the past,” said Piché.
Arun Budhathoki is a journalist with the NB Media Co-op. This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada, administered by the Canadian Association of Community Television Stations and Users (CACTUS).