Ottawa

Province to build 2 new jails, upgrade 3 others in eastern Ontario

Ontario will build two new jails and upgrade three others as part of its plan to modernize the corrections system in eastern Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said Friday.

Decision to expand correctional capacity 'unfathomable,' critic says

The Ontario government will build two new jails, including one to replace the Brockville Jail, and upgrade three others as part of a strategy to modernize the corrections system. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Ontario will build two new jails and upgrade three others as part of a major investment plan to modernize the corrections system in eastern Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.

The province will replace the existing Brockville Jail — which opened in 1842 — with a new facility, and construct a correctional complex on government-owned land in Kemptville, Ont., approximately 60 km south of Ottawa.

The money will also fund renovations of the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and expansions of the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville and the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, Ont.

In total, the new builds will add 375 beds, of which 70 will be dedicated for women. 

Ford said the extra space will help reduce overcrowding in provincial jails while creating jobs and supporting correctional workers.

"These investments will help promote safety, provide additional tools and support and improve the work environment for frontline correctional staff," said Ford. 

"I want our correctional staff to know that we will always have your backs."

The announcement comes almost three years after Ontario's independent corrections adviser recommended sweeping changes to the way jails are run. Howard Saper's report contained 62 recommendations, including calling for limits on the use of solitary confinement, a better complaints process for inmates and more family visits and supports for people in jail.

No word on cost, timeline

The government didn't share details on how much the projects will cost in total or a timeline for the completion of each project.

The investment will be in addition to a previously-announced $500-million the province plans to spend over the next five years to hire 500 additional corrections staff to help address challenges within the correctional system, such as mental health and addiction issues.

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents around 9,000 correctional workers, said upgrades to the province's aging facilities and more support for corrections staff are badly needed.

"I'm extremely pleased to see the government making good on its plan to fix the crisis in corrections," said Thomas. "Taking practical, meaningful steps to relieve the crisis is long overdue — and COVID-19 has made solutions even more urgent. I appreciate that the premier has taken the time to sit down with me and listen to advice from the front-line workers that OPSEU represents."

Warren (Smokey) Thomas is president of OPSEU, the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union. (CBC)

Thomas said his union has been lobbying for similar changes for decades.

"I impressed upon the premier to please, please listen to the frontline workers when they're doing their designs and [to] take their input to heart because they know how to make it work better," Thomas said.

There are approximately 6,100 adults in custody in Ontario jails on any given day, according to the province.

Building more jails is 'backwards,' professor says

Justin Piché, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa who studies incarceration, criticized the investment as "backwards" at a time when report after report has identified major flaws in the way the corrections system treats incarcerated people.

"We're expanding our capacity to cage people, to criminalize people living with mental health issues," said Piché. "It's unfathomable to me and it should be to others that corrections — a sector that continually fails to live up to its legal standards and obligations, that fails to meet its own objectives — is rewarded in this way."

Piché said that money would be better spent on social supports that would help keep people out of the jail system, including education and housing, and alternatives to jails such as halfway houses.

"This government is ... basically paving the road to further injustice and marginalization when we need at this moment to be spending money and capital on taking our societies and our communities to the next level to be able to produce a more inclusive, prosperous, healthy way of life," said Piché.

Justin Piché, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the Ontario government should spend more money on social supports that prevent people from becoming incarcerated rather than expanding jails. (Submitted by Justin Piché)

According to a background document, the new facility in Kemptville — called the Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex — will " adopt modern planning principles and design elements, including single cell occupancy, risk-classified housing units, modern programming and cultural space, open visitation spaces and improved professional development space for staff."

Once it is complete, the ministry will reassess its plans for the OCDC, which was built in the 1970s. The plan to renovate the OCDC appears to replace a previous announcement in 2017 from the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne to build a 725-bed jail to replace the current facility. The current capacity of the Ottawa facility is 516, a ministry spokesperson said.

OCDC has been plagued for years by problems that include overcrowding, lack of proper health care, overuse of solitary confinement and inmates dying by suicide.

The new Brockville Correctional Complex, which will replace the Brockville Jail, will be built on the grounds of the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre. An additional facility that serves women only will be built there as well.

At the Quinte Detention Centre, a separate building will be constructed adjacent to the existing facility in Napanee, Ont., much of which will be used for inmate programming and recreational facilities. New living units will be built to house women, which will be single-storey and single occupancy, the document said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the construction projects would cost $500 million. In fact, the undisclosed cost would be on top of a previously announced $500-million investment.
    Aug 31, 2020 5:58 AM ET

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