Support strong for youth facility

After two public meetings to discuss a proposal to build a young offenders’ facility at Couchiching, community support for the project appears to be strong–and building.
The meetings, held Tuesday on Couchiching and again last night at the Civic Centre, were held to inform residents of a local bid to be the site of a facility.
Last night’s meeting drew some 20 people while the one Tuesday night at Couchiching attracted about 60.
The proposal, being put together to meet a provincial deadline of Sept. 14, is for the 75 to 100-bed medium-security facility to be built along Highway 11 just east of the Couchiching Bingo Palace.
With one of the criteria for the bid being public support, the meetings proved encouraging for those assembling. Both featured questions about security and the quality of rehabilitation programs but very few people adamantly opposed the proposal.
“We had a good presentation,” noted Richard Bruyere of the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat.
“There were a lot of concerns focused around programming, there were concerns about security, that sort of thing, but overall I think the response was good,” he remarked.
An expert panel–which included a consultant putting the proposal together, First Nations and Fort Frances reps, an administrator from “Project Turnaround,” which runs a similar facility near Barrie, and OPP officers–all endorsed the project and effectively allayed any fears of local residents.
“This is a joint effort and we support Couchiching’s bid to have a young offenders’ facility located [there],” noted Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon.
Residents seemed reassured after the panel explained provincial security standards, staff quality at other facilities, and plans for culturally-relevant programming.
“One of the most sobering thoughts from a First Nations perspective is the number of First Nations people in these institutions,” noted Bruyere. “It is sobering because the numbers are high, the [percentages] are in the high 80s to mid-90s.
“What we’re trying to do with individuals that are incarcerated is offer programs to bring them back into sobriety,” he added.
Both the Fort Frances and Couchiching councils appear to be in unanimous support of the proposal.
That’s coupled with ringing endorsements from Emo Reeve Russ Fortier, at least six other First Nations communities, the OPP, the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat, the Rainy River Future Development Corp., the Seven Generations Education Institute, and many other organizations and individuals.