Thunder Bay

Jail staff in Fort Frances, Ont., want 'the same tools' as union calls for upgrades to 112-year-old facility

The head of the union that represents corrections staff at the jail in Fort Frances, Ont., says the small northwestern Ontario facility is behind the rest of the province's correctional centres in getting some crucial upgrades and is calling on the provincial government to invest money.

OPSEU local president Tom Kenny says small northwestern Ontario jail the only one without full body scanner

The jail in Fort Frances, Ont., was built in 1907. (Google Streetview)

The head of the union that represents corrections staff at the jail in Fort Frances, Ont., says the small northwestern Ontario facility is behind the rest of the province's correctional centres in getting some crucial upgrades and is calling on the provincial government to invest money.

The 25-bed facility was built in 1907 and is constantly at or near capacity, said Tom Kenny, a correctional officer at the jail, who is also the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union local there.

"There's been a big push on for transformation in corrections, modernizing corrections," he told CBC News. "There's been a lot of work and lot of things going on in other jails ... that's just never made its way to Fort Frances."

At the top of that list, he said, is the need for a full body scanner — a device that is designed to help catch weapons, drugs or other contraband before they're smuggled into a facility. Kenny said the Fort Frances jail is the only facility in Ontario without one.

"If the ministry is serious about transforming corrections and modernizing it ... we're all part of the same team," he said. "If a bigger institution in Toronto's getting a tool, the smaller institution in Fort Frances should be getting that same tool."

Kenny also published his concerns in a letter to the editor to the Fort Frances Times newspaper earlier in July. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones responded via Twitter saying that she met with frontline staff at the Fort Frances jail when she visited the community located about 350 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, and that the provincial government will "continue taking action to make the adult corrections system safer for staff, with a focus on their wellbeing and public safety."

"The ministry mandated that these [body scanners] be installed in every institution; every institution in Ontario has a full body scanner now except Fort Frances, so this has been sort of building just from the frustration locally," Kenny said, adding that Jones did visit and tour the jail recently, spent "a good amount of time" speaking with himself, other union officials and management where they discussed a number of issues.

"She listened, she asked questions, we asked questions."

CBC News asked the Ministry of the Solicitor General about whether the Fort Frances jail is due to receive a body scanner. A spokesperson said that "the ministry continues to explore options for the installation of a body scanner at the Fort Frances Jail."

The facility frequently sees inmates transferred in from other over-capacity facilities in the northwest, like Thunder Bay when beds do open up, Kenny said.

He said he doesn't expect the province to build a new jail in Fort Frances and isn't asking for one — although he did add that "it'd be great but we're not that naive to think it's just going to happen" — but Kenny said that "enough is enough," and that the facility needs to be upgraded.

"We just want to put out there that we should be on a level playing field."