Fredericton’s planning advisory committee rejects rezoning for N.B. jail

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Zoning amendment for new jail in Fredericton rejected by city’s planning advisory committee
A zoning amendment to allow for a new proposed jail in Fredericton has been rejected by the city’s planning advisory committee. The land is located within the Vanier Industrial Park and requires approval from council for construction to begin. But as Nathalie Sturgeon reports, with dozens of letters of opposition, a lot of questions remain about whether the jail will go ahead. – Dec 19, 2022

The rezoning proposal to build a 109-bed correctional facility within the city of Fredericton’s limits has been rejected by the city’s planning advisory committee.

The jail, which the government said is to help with overcrowding in facilities across New Brunswick, is planned for the Vanier Industrial Park. The nearest neighbor is a mere 1,100 metres from the proposed site.

In December 2021, the province announced it would spend $32 million for the facility. It will include five units, each containing 20 beds, plus nine segregation and admissions cells. The design will be based on the Dalhousie Regional Correctional Centre.

Rob Hamel lives in the neighbourhood nearest to the proposed site, known locally as Lincoln Heights. It’s a family-oriented area, with more than 200 homes.

He began researching the province’s correctional facilities and filed a 34-page report on what he believes are the impacts that type of infrastructure can have on his community and home value.

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“In my opinion, it’s very simple,” he said in an interview on Monday, “No child should have to live in the shadows of a jail. Based on the data in my report, if the provincial government plans to build a sixth jail, it cannot be near a residential neighbourhood.”

Hamel, who is a real estate agent by profession, knows it will also impact his livelihood.

In his report, he shows data on the price of houses where facilities are less than two kilometres away from a residential area lose value. The mere idea of a jail, he said, lowers the value of a home to potential buyers or sellers.

For example, Hamel writes in his report that houses around the Dalhousie Regional Correctional Facility have lost value.

“Four of the eight sold homes were bank repos and another two, of the reported sold, were the same house, which was bought in 2012 for $350,000 and sold again in 2014 for $276,000, a loss of $74,000,” he said.

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The area proposed for the build is well within the two-kilometre range of his backyard, where his kids play in their treehouse. Any build, he said, requires two things.

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“The first would be a minimum of two kilometres from any residential neighbourhood and second would be natural barriers such as waterways, a significant amount of land, wooded areas, valleys, hills, highways or a combination of both,” he said.

Hamel said he will continue to fight against the building of the jail in his neighbourhood.

60 letters of opposition

At the Dec. 14 meeting, the planning advisory committee got 60 letters of opposition, many from people who live in Lincoln Heights, but also advocates who say a jail is not the right approach to the overcrowding in other facilities.

Many were a standard letter that said: “All signs indicate that the prison will be targeting the most vulnerable members of our communities: people with mental illness who live in poverty.”

Martha Paynter, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of New Brunswick, said it’s not ethical or fiscally responsible to build a jail.

“Yes, the current institutions are overcrowded but that’s because we’re punishing people for things they shouldn’t be punished for,” she said. “We continue to criminalize the poor in this province as well.”

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She said the government has not provided an evidence-based reason for the jail.

“I think we need to rethink those ideas,” she said.

Paynter said the correctional facility is not a positive economic generator the way other investments in social programming would be.

“It really is something that breeds more harm,” she said. “It’s like throwing money into a black hole.”

The data around overcrowding

On several occasions, Public Safety Minister Kris Austin has pointed to overcrowding at provincial facilities, especially the Saint John Regional Correctional Facility.

The department provided data on those numbers, saying, as of Dec. 5, there were 547 inmates in provincial jails. The capacity is 526, meaning the five facilities are over capacity by 21 inmates.

The largest provincial correctional facility is the Southeast Regional Correctional Facility, with a capacity of 180 beds, and the smallest is the New Brunswick Women’s Correctional Centre with 56 beds.

Campbellton Regional Correctional Facility has a capacity of 100. Between October 2021 and October 2022, there wasn’t a single instance when it was over capacity.

Madawaska Regional Correctional Centre, which has 70 beds, hit overcapacity in April 2022.

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New Brunswick Women’s Correctional Centre hit overcapacity in June 2022, before dipping temporarily and then spiking again.

According to government data, Southeast Regional Correctional Centre was overcapacity as of June 2022, and as of October, it has 10 more people than it can handle.

Meanwhile, the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre, according to the data, has remained overcapacity from October 2021 to October 2022.

The government response

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr said he wants the process on the municipal level to play out. The file is with the department while it seeks approval for re-zoning and permits.

He said he understands there is resistance from the neighbouring communities.

“PAC recognized it and voted no to the rezoning so the people who live there have every right to participate in that process and I commend them for it,” he said.

When asked why it had to be within city limits, Carr said existing water and sewer infrastructure is key to building a facility of this kind. However, Carr says if the city quashes the build in the Vanier Industrial Park, the government will look elsewhere.

“If the city can’t do a zoning through PAC … then absolutely will look outside the city,” he said Friday. “There are other communities in the area that have water and sewer.”

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City officials said no one was available for an interview on the proposed jail.

Council is expected to host a public meeting on Jan. 9 and it is scheduled for final reading on Jan. 23, 2023, and the municipal council can overrule the PAC, but has to have a vote of 8-4 in favour.

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