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New prison gets ‘value for money assessment’

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to reporters at the 2017 budget lockup on Thursday morning at the Confederation Building.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons speaks to reporters at the 2017 budget lockup on Thursday morning at the Confederation Building.

The Department of Justice will spend $100,000 looking more closely at a possible replacement for Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP).

The former Progressive Conservative government paid for planning and design work for a new prison. The coming “value for money assessment” will determine if a prison might be financed now and how — namely, whether a public-private partnership would work and in what exact form.

There have long been calls for a replacement for HMP. The prison was opened in 1859, and later renovated and expanded.

“One of the big challenges that we face in the justice system is the infrastructure,” said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, speaking with reporters about Budget 2017.

Apart from the HMP-related expenditure, another $500,000 is to be spent this year to start detailed planning for a new court complex in St. John’s.

“We have the provincial court that’s at Atlantic Place, we have the Supreme Court that’s quite old, we have a family court that’s getting busier and busier and needs extra space,” Parsons said, adding there are ancillary offices as well, such as sheriff’s offices.

The rough vision, he said, is for a campus-like area, bringing all of the courts in St. John’s together. He suggested it would reduce leased space, while dealing with a need for additional space in some cases.

“This is something that’s been needed for some time and we’re going to move forward there,” he said.

In the meantime, $195,000 is budgeted in 2017 for renovations to the Supreme Court Trial Division, and $450,000 will be used to respond to increasing demand at family court.

While the stage is set for change in St. John’s, the minister said a second court will not be added in Harbour Grace.

“We have a number of courts in this province that have higher case loads where it’s still one court, one judge,” he said.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay is a different story when it comes to additions. The plan there is to add four permanent jobs — three sheriffs and a court manager.

The province is also adding three Crown attorneys, moving from 48 lawyers at present to 51. The change is meant to help deal with both an increase in major cases, according to budget documents, and avoid delays in criminal trials, as demanded by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Jordan.

Parsons said the province is looking at resumes for the Crown attorney positions. At the same time, he could not say where the new Crown attorneys would be based.

A further announcement should be expected soon on a pilot program offering free legal advice for anyone who is sexually assaulted, with $250,000 budgeted this year.

It’s expected there will be up to $120,000 spent to determine if the province should have a drug treatment court.

The Justice department will also spend money to establish family information liaison units, in participation with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

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