OTTAWA — The government will close Kingston Penitentiary, the country’s oldest penal institution, as well as the Leclerc prison near Montreal as part of a cost-cutting effort.
The iconic Kingston, Ont., prison, a national historic site whose turreted limestone walls are a waterfront landmark, dates back to 1835.
Leclerc, however, only opened in 1961.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said both prisons are old fashioned.
“Kingston Penitentiary and Leclerc are aging facilities with aging infrastructure,” he said. “Simply put we have better options.”
Kingston houses some of the country’s most high-risk convicts, including notorious killers Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams. Over the next two years, they and their fellows will be moved to maximum-security cells in other prisons.
Kingston can hold up to 421 inmates and now houses about 350. Leclerc can hold 481 convicts and houses about 280.
Toews said the closures will save $120 million a year as the inmates are shifted to more modern prisons.
“Moving these offenders to other facilities will increase safety and security and ensure the best use of hard-working Canadians’ tax dollars,” he said.
“The cells at other facilities will accommodate the offenders in these institutions we are decommissioning.”
Kingston Penitentiary holds maximum security convicts, while Leclerc is a medium-security prison.
The minister said dire predictions of a spike in the prison population because of the Conservative government’s crime policies were misplaced.
“Our government was told by our opponents that our tough-on-crime policies would create a wave of inmates that would swamp the corrections system, including the creation of untold new costs,” he said. “These new inmates have not materialized.”
Instead of building new prisons, the government can close two, he said.
Toews said Kingston Pen has few of the open sight lines and other security features standard in modern prisons.
“Institutions built in the 19th century are not appropriate for managing a 21st century inmate population,” he said.
He said the antiquated layout is hard on guards.
“They’ve been faced with additional challenges not faced in other institutions,” he said.
The minister said most of the staff involved in the changes will be able to move jobs to other Kingston-area prisons — there are nine institutions in the vicinity — without having to move homes or families.