Continued suspension of program at South West Detention Centre 'a loss' for inmates

COVID restrictions have suspended the Walls to Bridges program for the past two years. People involved say it's a loss of a valuable program that helps incarcerated people better themselves.

COVID restrictions have suspended the Walls to Bridges program for the past two years

The Walls to Bridges program at the Sout West Detention Centre has not been offered for two years. (CBC News)

COVID-19 restrictions at the South West Detention Centre for the past two years have resulted in the suspension of a program that served University of Windsor students and inmates alike.

The Walls to Bridges program provided inmates and university students an opportunity to take university credit courses together at the facility.

It started in 2017 through the Women's and Gender Studies program at the University of Windsor and offered one to two courses per year in social work and women's studies such as restorative justice. It hasn't been offered since 2020 due to the pandemic.

Half the classes of 16 to 20 people were university students and half were people incarcerated at the jail.

"The idea here is that the university students are not there to help the incarcerated students. They're not volunteering, they're not mentoring. It's about bringing people from really diverse backgrounds into the same space so that people can learn together and from one another, " said Betty Barrett, a professor of social work and women's studies at the University of Windsor who has taught a course in the program.

Prof. Betty Barrett of the Women's and Gender Studies program at the University of Windsor. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Barrett said the program not only offers incarcerated people a chance for personal development it also enriches the lives of students on the outside.

"One of the students who took the course was in computer science and as a result of taking the Walls to Bridges program, decided that they wanted to ultimately change their career path and go to law school and work with incarcerated people," said Barrett.

Defence lawyer Bobby Russon said the courses gave the incarcerated people a valuable opportunity to stay out of prison.

"One of the three pillars of sentencing is supposed to be rehabilitation, and the idea that someone can aid themselves in their own rehabilitation while in custody is obviously an important tool in the criminal defence lawyer's toolbox," said Russon. "It's certainly a loss and it's a loss that people feel in a real way. "

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky hopes the program can return soon.

"I would also add that it's really important that where possible, the provincial government could step in and ensure that everybody has whatever they need, whether that's PPE or other things, in order for the program to be able to continue at the South West Detention Centre even during a pandemic," said Gretzky.

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky wants to see the Walls to Bridges reinstated. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

The Ministry of the Solicitor General declined requests for an interview but sent a statement.

"Other educational opportunities have remained available to inmates throughout the pandemic,"said spokesperson. Andrew Morrison. "For example, the inmate literacy program offered through the Greater Essex County District School Board has continued running five days a week in the SWDC classroom,"

Barrett said there is still no timeline for the return of the program but she hopes it will come back in the fall.


Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.


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