New Toronto jail includes mental health, aboriginal programs

The largest correctional facility in Ontario is set to open in the next few weeks in Toronto, and will have features including programs dealing with mental health issues as well as spaces for aboriginal ceremonies.

Toronto South Detention Centre opening in a few weeks will be Ontario's largest correctional facility

The largest correctional facility in Ontario is set to open in the next few weeks in Toronto, and will have features including programs dealing with mental health issues as well as spaces for aboriginal ceremonies.

The Toronto South Detention Centre will accommodate up to 1,650 inmates, including those awaiting trial and individuals sentenced to provincial terms of under two years.

Its opening comes as critics raise the alarm about overcrowding in Ontario jails. According to the province's Ministry of Community Safety and corrections, nearly half of jails are overcrowded, a six-year high that sees cells meant for two people at times hold three or more.

The new maximum-security institution will replace the closing Toronto West Detention Centre and the Toronto Jail, known as the Don Jail.

The vast, state-of-the-art facility will have more than 50 program rooms, including classrooms, a multi-faith worship room that includes a foot bath for Muslim offenders to cleanse before their prayers, and an aboriginal program room.

There is also a special unit for handling high-risk offenders, a mental-health assessment unit and medical beds.

"We are committed to be an institution that focuses on program delivery and addressing the needs of inmates with mental-health issues,” said the centre’s director, Rose Buhagiar.

The detention centre is offering public tours this weekend in hopes of dispelling myths about jails propogated by television programs and in movies. The half-hour tours Friday, Saturday and Sunday will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but photography won't be allowed.

With files from The Canadian Press

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