In 1995, The Government of Ontario under the Conservative Party, created a task force to look into "strict discipline", also sometimes referred to as "boot camp" for young offenders. After research, consultations, and visits to other similar institutions, the task force recommended a pilot project that, if successful, could be expanded.
Sally Walker, then the program director for a maximum-security facility for adolescents in Florida, heard about the project in late 1996. Being originally from Ontario, and having contacts there, she contacted Brad DeLong, a social worker in Ottawa. Together, they built a business plan, and by February, 1997, had created the Encourage Youth corporation.
Bidding against five competitors, they managed to win the contract valued at $2.34 million per year. Walker appointed herself "Colonel", and DeLong was appointed "Lieutenant-colonel", and together they set out to, in her words, build a better mousetrap.
In July, 1997, Project Turnaround opened as Ontario's first privately operated strict discipline facility. Very soon afterward, two of its inmates escaped but were soon recaptured in a nearby field. They, and several others, were transferred back to mainstream jails.
Operating with a staff ranging from 40 to slightly over 50, and with a capacity of 32 young offenders, questions began to surface regarding the cost per inmate, and many were anxious to determine whether this style of correction showed any better results than the existing system. With renovations required, the facility only running at half capacity, and having been closed once for mold, the Project's future looked to be in trouble. By the end of 2003, the Government of Ontario, now under Liberal leadership, had decided not to renew the contract that expired on January 31, 2004.
Upon completion of the project, and closure of the troubled facility, there was no conclusive evidence that "strict discipline" made any kind of difference. Also, there was no clear determination as to the efficiency of the system, as both political parties are spinning it in their own favour.
I've visited a few different examples of the penal system, and despite how different this place was supposed to be, it doesn't, on the surface at least, look much different from any other. The high, inward curved fencing is a standard, as are the small, single cells with hard-looking beds and cramped quarters.
While it was quite similar, I found it to be quite different in other ways, including its size, its history, and the over all sense of failure that seems to hang over it all.