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Letter to MLAs on the Proposed Closure of Fort Smith Correctional Complex

Jun 06, 2024

The following letter was sent to all NWT MLAs on Thursday, June 6, from the members of UNW Local 2, which represents GNWT employees of the Men's unit at the Fort Smith Correctional Complex:

We are writing to express our deepest concerns regarding the proposed closure of the Men's Unit at the Fort Smith Correctional Complex (FSCC). These changes pose significant risks to the community's wellbeing, economic stability, and safety. The potential impacts are profound, and it is crucial that we address these issues thoughtfully and comprehensively.

Here are the key areas of concern:

Termination of Offender Education Program: The decision to cut a valuable offender program service is concerning, particularly as the teacher, who is employed through the male unit, also provides services to the female unit facility.

  • With classrooms in both facilities, this position has facilitated 60 GED exams since October 2021, resulting in many students gaining admission to their desired subjects at Aurora College.
  • The education program at FSCC offers significant opportunities for offenders aiming for a brighter future. Education plays a crucial role in reducing recidivism, fostering safer communities within the NWT, and facilitating the successful reintegration of offenders into their communities.

Safety of Vulnerable Offenders: The vulnerable offenders at North Slave Correctional Complex (NSCC) have endured immense challenges, facing health and safety risks and incidents involving threats from more violent offenders.

  • To protect vulnerable offenders, NSCC has transferred individuals to FSCC, where the environment is safer and more supportive. This compassionate move has provided a critical sanctuary, allowing vulnerable offenders to serve their time with dignity and security. Losing this refuge would be a heartbreaking setback, stripping away a vital layer of protection for those who need it most.

Remand Offenders: FSCC is the only remand centre for the RCMP in the South Slave Region.

  • The nearest correctional facility, in Hay River, doesn’t have a remand centre or take admissions from RCMP.
  • The remand services in Fort Smith assist surrounding communities and the RCMP in the South Slave Region with dealing with criminal activity.

Impact on Female Unit: Closing the male unit would eliminate vital support for the female unit, where trained officers have been instrumental in managing incidents and addressing staffing shortages. Past experiences have demonstrated the indispensable role of male correctional staff in handling challenging situations promptly and effectively. Without their assistance, the female unit could be left vulnerable to potential risks and difficulties.

Operational Efficiency and Staffing Challenges: Unlike larger facilities like NSCC where you have a staff member for each type of position, the staff at FSCC are trained to work in multiple positions. This efficient use of personnel actually helps REDUCE the cost of delivering our services outside of larger centres.

Retention of Institutional Knowledge: The loss of experienced correctional staff would result in the departure of valuable institutional knowledge and expertise accumulated over years of service. This knowledge is essential for maintaining continuity and effectiveness in correctional operations and ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.

Economic Impact: The proposed changes will negatively affect the local economy, resulting in a loss of $2.7 million in salary earnings, which will adversely impact local businesses and the broader community.

  • The looming risk of job loss among local and Indigenous residents of Fort Smith, particularly at the male correctional unit, has triggered immense stress and anxiety within the community.
  • Many individuals are grappling with the prospect of unemployment, uncertain about their financial future and livelihoods. They are turning to our leaders for support during this time of crisis and hardship, seeking reassurance and guidance as they navigate the challenges ahead.
  • The loss millions of dollars in salary earnings means fewer people spending money on goods and services in the community and contributing to its tax base

Lack of Plan/Viability for Wellness Centre: The Minister of Finance's omission to provide a firm commitment, plan, or timeline for repurposing the male unit facility into a wellness centre has sparked uncertainty and is perceived as less than optimal. This lack of clarity and direction undermines confidence in any proposed transition, emphasizing the importance of transparent and well-defined planning processes.

  • Further, the presence of two wellness centres in Fort Smith, operated by the Salt River First Nation Band and the Fort Smith Health Centre, respectively, raises questions about the viability of establishing another wellness centre.
  • In the history of NWT, we've witnessed several closures of wellness centres, and have been met with opposition from the previous minister of health, who questioned their efficacy for the community.
  • Over the decades, numerous centres have opened and closed, casting doubt on the viability of such initiatives. This track record of unsuccessful treatment centres raises significant concerns about the proposed transition of the correctional facility into a wellness centre.
  • Contrastingly, the provision of education and a safe rehabilitation environment at FSCC has been a resounding success. We firmly believe that by positively impacting one person's life, we can serve as an example for the entire community. Our educational annual report from last year showcases the impactful work we've accomplished, surpassing the collective efforts of many wellness centres.

An online petition will be going up, and we look forward to your support. Feel free to contact us if you would like to work with us to bring this petition forward in the Legislative Assembly.

In conclusion, we urge you to consider the significant and far-reaching impacts that the proposed closure of FSCC will have on our community. It is imperative that we thoroughly evaluate these concerns and prioritize the well-being, safety, and economic stability of Fort Smith.

We strongly advocate for a comprehensive review and reconsideration of this plan to ensure that any changes made are truly in the best interest of our community.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.


UNW Local 2 Members
Fort Smith Correctional Complex, Men’s Unit