THUNDER BAY — “Our government is taking action to improve the safety of corrections staff and inmates while providing culturally appropriate programming and services for Indigenous individuals,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “These measures will strengthen Ontario’s corrections system and support public safety in the Thunder Bay and Kenora regions.”
The Ontario government reports the province is investing in infrastructure expansion projects at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre and Kenora Jail.
The projects are part of the government’s strategy to invest more than $500 million over five years to transform correctional services and improve health and safety through new hiring and infrastructure improvements.
The construction of new structures at both correctional facilities will allow for increased access to literacy, skills development, and technology programs that support safe community reintegration. This investment will also help address overcrowding in Kenora and Thunder Bay during the construction of the new Thunder Bay Correctional Complex.
Indigenous leadership and organizations will have input into the design of the new spaces and other culturally appropriate aspects of the facilities.
There were no specifics on this programming revealed as a part of the announcement.
Inmates in the very overcrowded Thunder Bay District Jail have reported to NetNewsLedger as many as four to six people in a cell designed for two prisoners. Additionally, there has been greatly reduced access to outside time at the jail. Former inmates tell NNL about major numbers of lockdowns, and of assaults by other prisoners at the facility.
The aging facility has been planned for replacement starting with the previous Liberal government.
The Ford Government announcement on these planned projects builds on other public safety initiatives designed to create a culturally relevant and responsive justice system in Ontario including:
- An Indigenous Bail and Remand Program to decrease the use of pre-trial custody for Indigenous persons.
- Indigenous Restorative Justice programming to strengthen cultural identity and reduce the likelihood of future involvement with the justice system.
- Establishing the Kenora Justice Centre to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the local justice system.
- Providing $675,000 to Kenora’s Mobile Crisis and Outreach Team, $979,911 to Thunder Bay’s Joint Mobile Crisis Response Project, and $979,911 to Thunder Bay’s Project River Safety and Health Initiative over three years (2019 to 2022) through the Community Safety and Policing Grants program.
- Investing $800,000 to support a one-year pilot project with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory Street Patrol to help ensure the needs of at-risk Indigenous community members are being met in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner.
Some of the funding included in the announcement yesterday has been planned or announced previously – The Project River Safety has been ongoing since 2019. The project first reported to the community in 2018.
The funding for the Street Patrol in Kenora, a Bear Clan Patrol was announced in July 2019.
“These projects support our goal of ensuring the province’s justice system is responsive to the needs of Indigenous people and communities,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “By expanding these existing facilities, we are providing Indigenous individuals in custody with greater opportunities for skills development, education and literacy.”
“Our government’s ongoing work to build a more accessible, responsive and resilient justice system includes addressing the specific needs of Indigenous, northern, and rural communities,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “We are committed to working with community partners in Ontario’s northern regions to support access to justice and public safety.”
- In preparation for this project, Infrastructure Ontario, through its contractors, is undertaking environmental, geotechnical, survey, archaeological and site servicing work within the secure perimeter at both facilities.
- Tendering and construction of the new expansion projects in Thunder Bay and Kenora is expected to be completed by spring 2022.
- The government is in the process of developing the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Thunder Bay Correctional Complex project and it is expected to be released by early 2021.