Overcrowding, lockdowns at Windsor jail are a "crisis,' says criminal lawyer
'It's been something that's been growing over the past number of months,' says Windsor lawyer Daniel Topp
A Windsor, Ont. criminal lawyer says overcrowding at the South West Detention Centre (SWDC) is preventing some inmates from accessing adequate legal aid, as well as programs meant to aid in rehabilitation.
"It's been something that's been growing over the past number of months," said Daniel Topp, adding that he's aware of some cells with space for only two beds crammed with three inmates.
Topp said issues at the 315-bed SWDC haven't reached the same level as at the old Windsor jail, but he said "it's getting to a point."
"It's actually at a crisis right now, so it is concerning, especially with three people to a cell," Topp said.
NDP Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky, who also serves as the province's critic for community and social services, said limited numbers of correctional officers mean the detention centre sometimes doesn't have anyone who can supervise meetings between lawyers and their clients.
"People become frustrated with being locked up," she said. "What that turns into is really a powder keg of emotion, and … that's where the cycle of violence begins."
In addition to overcrowding, Topp said lockdowns in certain parts of the detention centre prevent inmates from accessing programs "to better themselves while they're in custody."
"It's actually a very nice jail and it has a ton of programs," said Topp. "The biggest problem is … the inmates can't access those programs because of the lockdown."
Both Topp and Gretzky said overcrowding and lockdowns aren't concerns exclusive to the SWDC, but are issues across the province.
"In many of our correctional facilities they're having to put lockdowns in certain areas because they don't have enough correctional staff to be able to monitor the inmates when they're let out of their cells for recreational time," said Gretzky.
Province is aware of South West Detention Centre concerns
In an email, Andrew Morrison, part of the Ontario solicitor general's communications branch, said the Ministry is "aware that the South West Detention Centre is currently experiencing some capacity pressures."
According to figures provided by Morrison, the percentage of detained inmates awaiting trial at the South West Detention Centre is slightly higher than the provincial average.
Approximately 74 per cent of detained inmates are awaiting trial at detention centres across Ontario, while approximately 80 per cent of inmates detained at the SWDC are awaiting trial.
The Ministry continually assesses capacity needs ...- Andrew Morrison, spokesperson for the Ontario solicitor general
"The Ministry has a legal responsibility to uphold the orders of the courts and to ensure the safety and security of those in its custody," wrote Morrison. "The Ministry continually assesses capacity needs to ensure that beds are available where they are most needed in the province."
Morrison added that there have been 19 partial and two full lockdowns at the SWDC so far this year.
The lockdowns ranged from 2.5 to 14 hours in length.
"Lockdowns at provincial correctional facilities are necessary from time to time for staff and inmate safety," wrote Morrison. "Reasons for lockdowns can include security incidents, cell searches, staff shortages, or maintenance and repairs."
According to Morrison, partial lockdowns are preferred when possible, "to continue inmate visits and programming."
Ontario government 'not investing appropriately,' says MPP
For her part, Gretzky said the Ontario Progressive Conservative government hasn't done enough to address concerns with the province's correctional and justice systems.
"They're not putting money into supports and services and programs that actually would help people from entering into the system to begin with," Gretzky said.
Gretzky said the provincial government has failed to address Ontario's opioid crisis, adding that "often people that are struggling with addiction will end up in our justice system and in our correctional facilities."
"They're making cuts across the board to services that would actually help lift people up and keep them out of the system," she said. "They're not investing and making sure that we have enough correctional officers in our facilities to make it safe for not only the inmates, but also for the staff that are in our facilities."
They're making cuts across the board to services that would actually help ...- Lisa Gretzky, NDP Windsor West MPP
Gretzky was also critical of the previous Liberal government for failing to "invest properly into the supports and services that we need in our communities to keep people out of the correctional system and the justice system."
"[Liberals] had 15 years to be investing and making sure that we had enough of the frontline staff," she said. "They didn't do that."
With files from Amy Dodge