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Project Turnaround – Was this failed experiment in youth justice given a fair chance?

November 2019

In Ontario in the mid-1990s, the Ontario government under Premier Mike Harris made an attempt to reform incarceration for youth offenders in the province and Project Turnaround was the result.

In 1997, a small youth jail was opened in Hillsdale, Ontario, taking over the facilities of Camp Hillsdale, a former adult offender agricultural work camp that had been shut-down in 1994.

Project Turnaround was Ontario’s first and only privately-run facility for young offenders, based on the boot camp model of strict, regimented discipline. The maximum security facility, now ringed with a six-metre-high fence, housed high risk offenders between the ages of 16 and 17, with a maximum capacity of 36 offenders.

Project Turnaround was owned and operated by Sally Walker, a veteran of the private prison system in Florida, on a $2.5 million operational budget. Inmates were put through a 16 hour days consisting of schooling, behavioral and life skill training that included marching, along with growing crops for other local facilities in nearby fields.

During the life of Project Turnaround, 2 inmates escaped from the facility, only to be caught three hours later.

In February 2003, a mould infestation in the buildings led to what was planned only as a temporary closure, but a change in government and a lack of desire to renew the contract that was due to expire two months later, saw the closure became permanent as of 31 January 2004.

During its brief 6-year life, Project Turnaround saw 365 young offenders go through the program, after serving sentences for a range of offences, including assault, robbery, forcible confinement, escape, weapons charges and breaking and entering.

As this was the one and only time that Ontario attempted such a correctional program, it’s unknown if given more time and some adjustments, whether Project Turnaround could have made a significant difference in the administration of the youth criminal justice system.

Today, the inmates and correctional officers are long gone, but the buildings remain, eerily silent and crumbling.

Sources: https://www.muskokaregion.com/news-story/3599594-project-turnaround-is-it-working-for-young-offenders, http://jermalism.blogspot.com/2012/02/abandonment-issues-project-turnaround.html

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/project-turnaround-was-this-failed-experiment-in-youth-justice-given-a-fair-chance/

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