Thunder Bay

New jail 'long time coming' says Thunder Bay correctional officer

A local correctional officer says a new jail will mean a healthier, safer environment for both inmates, and correctional staff in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Michael Lundy says he hopes the new facility will be designed with a focus on rehabilitation and mental health

Correctional officers have long been calling for changes at the aging Thunder Bay District Jail. On Thursday the province announced plans to build a new facility replacing both the jail, and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

A local correctional officer says a new jail will mean a healthier, safer environment for both inmates, and correctional staff in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The province announced its plans to build a new jail in the northwestern Ontario city on Thursday.

"It's been a long time coming," said Michael Lundy, who has experience working at both the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, and the Thunder Bay District Jail, both of which are to be replaced by a new multi-purpose facility.

It's been so hard to work in ... the Thunder Bay jail- Michael Lundy

"I've still got such a big smile on my face all day from this announcement," he said. 

Staff have long been concerned about poor conditions, and understaffing at the century-old Thunder Bay District Jail in particular, said Lundy, who also serves as vice chair of the provincial health and safety committee with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. 

"It's just. It's been so hard to work in something like the Thunder Bay jail," he said.

"The ability to do anything inside that jail is so limited, because it is a hundred years old. We've also said for years that it was built back in the 1920s for, I believe, a capacity of 60 people at the time. We're now at 150, 160 inmates at all times."

A hostage-taking at the jail in 2015 highlighted just how badly change was needed, he said.     

Thunder Bay correctional officer Michael Lundy says the old Thunder Bay District Jail was not built to meet modern challenges, or to provide adequate care to inmates with mental health issues. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The big questions now are where the new jail will be located, and when construction will start, said Lundy, adding that he will also be looking for assurances that local union representatives will be included in the planning. 

His own wish-list for the new facility would include more space for programming, as well as better staffing levels, better access to healthcare and a mental health unit. 

Lundy said he's also hopeful that the facility will have better housing options for inmates that are currently being kept in segregation. 

"It's all those things that, over the years, we've complained is inadequate at the Thunder Bay jail, we want to make sure they're incorporated into a new building," he said.