A side by side comparison of public and private jails in Ontario showed public was the clear winner.

Penetanguishene, Ontario

On the surface, the two new jails seemed identical. Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) and the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) were similar-sized facilities, built at almost the same time. CNCC opened in 2001 in Penetanguishene, Ont., and CECC opened in Lindsay, Ont., in 2003. But there was one significant difference: The Ontario government contracted a U.S.-based private company to run the Penetanguishene jail, while the Lindsay facility remained under public control.

Identical prisons show public benefits

The prisons offered a unique opportunity to conduct a side-by-side privatization experiment, with both jails required to operate according to the same standards, policies and operational procedures. The benefits of publicly operated jails soon became clear.

Fewer staff, less safety

Almost immediately after it opened, concerns about understaffing were raised at the Penetanguishene jail, which operated with approximately 90 fewer staff than the public facility. A confidential internal memo prepared for senior management at the prison revealed there were too few staff to provide proper searches to ensure weapons and drugs were kept out of prisoners’ hands and to ensure the safety of correctional officers. One officer suffered head injuries and post-traumatic stress after he was beaten by an inmate. At the time of the attack, his unit was short staffed and his backup was a new employee on her first day on the job. At one point, four stabbings occurred within weeks at the prison, one causing the death of an inmate.

"We found that in basically every single area, the outcomes were better in the publicly run facilities."

–Monte Kwinter

Riots and attempted escapes

Further alarms were raised about the quality of care provided to inmates at the private prison. Inmate unrest grew over concerns about a lack of food, medical care and clean clothing. On September 19, 2002, between 60 and 100 inmates rioted and attempted to escape from the prison. Sirens blared as the community was alerted to the potential danger. An internal Corrections unit quelled the riot, while 63 police officers were called in to secure the perimeter. The cost of the repairs to the prison as well as the police action had to be paid for by the Ontario public.

Cutting corners comes at a cost

As the contract term came to a close at the private prison, the government commissioned an independent review of both. The report compared the two facilities and highlighted significant differences at the private prison, including:

  • understaffing resulting in lower levels of security,
  • a higher repeat offender rate than the publicly run jail,
  • poor health care for inmates at the facility. 

Monte Kwinter, the Ontario Community Safety Minister at the time, told the CBC: "We found that in basically every single area, the outcomes were better in the publicly run facilities."

The Ontario government hasn’t opened a single private jail since.