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Pushing ahead with a controversial plan to close the Dauphin jail, Manitoba's justice minister says the province has reached an agreement to save correctional workers' jobs — but the employees' union is decrying the announcement as "damage control."

The agreement, finalized last week between the justice department and the Manitoba Government Employees' Union (MGEU), was announced Wednesday. It means the roughly 80 employees at the Dauphin Correctional Centre will be offered other government jobs when the jail closes this spring, on an as-yet-undetermined date. The province says it has a plan to support employees who want to work elsewhere, including those who want to either stay in Dauphin or relocate.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said Dauphin correctional officers could fill job vacancies in corrections in other areas of the province, and that the government will provide training to those who want to work in other positions. He couldn't say Wednesday how much the training will cost, or how many current employees intend to stay or move from Dauphin.

"Obviously, we're interested in creating some more jobs in the Parkland to help grow the economy in that particular region as well," Cullen told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday, saying government officials are meeting with concerned community members Thursday and have arranged additional meetings over the next two weeks. 

Despite the agreement, the union is still pushing for the government to reverse its decision to close the 103-year-old jail. The closure was announced in January as part of an $11-million renovation to the adjacent courthouse. MGEU says the jail should stay open until a new "healing centre" is built in the Parkland region to replace it.

The province says employees at the Dauphin Correctional Centre will be offered other government jobs when the jail closes this spring. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The province says employees at the Dauphin Correctional Centre will be offered other government jobs when the jail closes this spring. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Cullen said he's open to hearing more about the healing centre proposal, but he said the decision to close the jail won't be reversed. It would cost too much to bring the building up to today's standards, Cullen said.

"The decision was made, again, not made lightly, and we believe it's the right decision for this particular facility. The red flags, the warnings, have all been there for a number of years," he said.

The union is getting ready to present a petition to the legislature it says contains hundreds of signatures protesting the jail's impending closure.

MGEU confirmed negotiating the agreement with the province, but said Cullen's statement announcing the agreement Wednesday "is clearly damage control," in advance of the petition presentation Thursday.

"It is our legal and moral responsibility to get the best arrangements for all of our members. But unless this government reverses this short-sighted decision, there will still be 80 fewer good jobs in the Dauphin community. And, the bumping process that has been triggered is very disruptive, creating a divisive dynamic among civil service staff," the statement reads in part.

As of Wednesday, there were 53 inmates in custody at the Dauphin Correctional Centre, Cullen said. He said their average stay is 47 days, and they will be "transitioned" out as their release days come up. The province had said it planned to close the jail at the end of May, but Cullen said Wednesday the closing date is flexible.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca  

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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