Thunder Bay

Advisory board could improve Thunder Bay jail, Ottawa board chair says

A community advisory board could help raise awareness and make recommendations to improve conditions at the Thunder Bay District Jail where Adam Capay has been held in solitary confinement for more than four years, says the chair of Ottawa's advisory board.

Volunteer boards meet with inmates, staff, management, make recommendations to improve conditions

Several inquests into the deaths of inmates at the Thunder Bay District Jail have recommended the 90-year-old facility be replaced. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

A community advisory board could help raise awareness and make recommendations to improve conditions at the Thunder Bay District Jail where Adam Capay has been held in solitary confinement for more than four years, says the chair of an advisory board in Ottawa.

Currently fewer than a dozen of the nearly 30 jails in Ontario have community advisory boards, mandated by the province to provide advice and recommendations to the Ministry of Correctional Services. Thunder Bay is not one of them.

"Our purpose is to provide a lens and a liaison between the community and the operations of the institution," said Rebecca Jeseman, chair of the advisory board at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. "So we'll really speak with everyone within, as well as community members externally, about concerns, and look at recommendations to improve conditions within the facility."

The attention that Capay's case has brought to conditions at the Thunder Bay jail could encourage volunteers to take on the task of meeting with inmates, staff and management, in the northwestern Ontario city, she said.

Capay is the 24-year-old who has been held in solitary confinement for more than four years, much of it in cell with plexiglass over the bars, under the constant glare of an overhead light shining day and night.

His case made national headlines when the circumstances of his pre-trial detention were discovered during a tour by the Ontario's human rights commissioner. 

"There's probably enough public attention that that could be leveraged in order to generate some participation at the community level," said Jesseman, who has a background in criminology and works for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

She got involved in the Ottawa board  "to try and reach out to a group in our community who are often easily missed and often easily discriminated against and to demystify the conditions in the facility to the broader community."

Community advisory boards make recommendations on systemic changes as well as day-to-day situations, such as the frequency of laundry or the activities in the exercise yard, Jesseman said.

"For example, giving the guys Nerf footballs that they can use when they're out in the yards rather than having to use rolled up socks," she said.

During a court appearance on Monday, Capay's trial date the charge of first degree murder was set for March 20, 2017.

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