Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay jail hostage-taking signals need for transformation: Yasir Naqvi

More mental health and addictions supports are needed to keep people out of jail, Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services says after four injured in hostage-taking at Thunder Bay District Jail.

Correctional service has become a 'warehousing system', Minister of Community Safety says

Four people were injured during a hostage-taking incident at the Thunder Bay District Jail that began on Monday night and was resolved early Tuesday morning, according to police. (Jody Porter/CBC)
In a followup to the hostage taking at the Thunder Bay jail on Monday night we talk to Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services

Increasing safety at the Thunder Bay District Jail requires a long-term transformation, according to Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Corrections Yasir Naqvi, who adds, that work needs to start now.

Naqvi's comments follow a hostage-taking incident at the district jail on Monday night that some union officials have blamed on overcrowding and lack of programming. 

Naqvi said 60 per cent of those in custody in the province are currently on remand awaiting trial.

He said many of them would be better served by addiction or mental health services and that would help address overcrowding.
Yasir Naqvi is the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services says the province needs to work with health and social services to divert more offenders to mental health or addictions programs. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

"One of the biggest challenges we have ... [is] the system has become very much a warehousing system as opposed to truly a correctional system where really one would focus on rehabilitation and reintegration," Naqvi said.

He added the province needs to build strong partnerships with health and social service agencies in order to solve the problem. 

"We need to do a better job ... to ensure that people who need the mental health supports or supports around addiction are getting the proper diversion," he said. "And those who have committed serious crimes are the ones who are coming into a jail."

 Doing that would allow the correctional service to better focus on programming, rehabilitation and reintegration, he said.

Naqvi's ministry has confirmed a pair of investigations are underway into the hostage-taking.

A Ministry spokesperson said police are conducting a criminal investigation, while the province does its own internal probe.

Incident will force change

A spokesperson for corrections workers with the Ontario Public Services Employees Union in Thunder Bay said he's expecting this incident, and the subsequent investigations, will force the system to change.

"There was a riot, and it was well before my time in the late-mid 70's, late 70's, at the Thunder Bay jail, I remember watching it on [CBC's] The National one night," Greg Arnold recalled.

"Offenders had taken control of the jail at that time, and I do remember, not being in corrections yet, but I remember significant changes were made," he said.

Arnold said he feels the age of the building also played a part in Tuesday's incident. The building is more than 90 years old, he noted. 

Naqvi told CBC he is aware of concerns about the aging building but could not yet say when it might be upgraded or replaced. 


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