Thunder Bay

'No end in sight': overcrowding still a crisis at Thunder Bay jail

Overcrowding and staff shortages continue to be a crisis at the Thunder Bay District Jail, with some inmates sleeping in common areas as there's no room left in the facility's cells, a union representative said.

Inmates sleeping in common areas, staff quitting or taking stress leave, union says

Overcrowding a staffing shortages remain at crisis levels at the Thunder Bay District Jail. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Overcrowding and staff shortages continue to be a crisis at the Thunder Bay District Jail, with some inmates sleeping in common areas without access to washrooms or running water, a union representative said.

Brad Slobodian — president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 737, which represents staff at the jail — said last weekend, there were 209 inmates in the jail, which has a capacity of about 140.

On Thursday, the count was 185, he said.

"We've got inmates sleeping in areas that have no access to running water or washrooms, in our visiting area, in our day areas," Slobodian said. "Four to a cell in some [areas]."

"We try to get people out, but they just keep coming in. There's no end in sight."

The overcrowding has led to high levels of stress among staff.

"Our staff are probably stressed out to the max right now," Slobodian said. "We had numerous people go off on stress leave, we had numerous people just quit this year."

"The morale's as low as it's ever been," he said.

Violence is also rising, Slobodian said.

"We've had five pretty-serious assaults in the last month," Slobodian said.

The most-serious of those assaults occurred Wednesday; the victim in that instance remains in critical condition.

"Assaults happen a lot," Slobodian said. "The viciousness of them, the savagery of them, is increasing."

A Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson confirmed the assault, but wouldn't provide further details "as it may involve personal health information."

No staff members have been injured in the assaults.

Slobodian said he's reached out to the ministry several times in the last few months requesting staff be transferred from other institutions to provide relief at the Thunder Bay jail.

"Supposedly, that's in the works," he said. "We could use 30-50 officers."

The province has promised a new, 325-bed correctional centre for Thunder Bay, but Slobodian said it's likely at least five years away.

"Our institution, we can't sustain that for five more years there, the way it is," he said. "There's no way."

"It's brutal," Slobodian said. "I've been around for 16 years in adult corrections, I did four years with young offenders, I've never seen it this bad."

The ministry didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on staffing shortages and overcrowding at the jail.