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‘Build the new jail in Thunder Bay – right now’: OPSEU

Thunder Bay – In the wake of the Ontario Ombudsman’s scathing report on the state of Ontario corrections, the union representing the province’s 9,000 correctional officers is calling on Queen’s Park to start construction of the promised new Thunder Bay Jail.

“For years, the previous Liberal government assured us the plans and money were there for the jail, but it was all words and no action,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU. “Meanwhile, things get worse at the jail by the day. Let’s get those shovels in the ground now.”

On April 26, the Conservative government announced it would proceed with construction of a new 325-bed facility to replace the current jail, completed in 1928 with a 125-bed capacity. Corrections staff members have roundly criticized the existing structure for its overcrowded, dilapidated conditions and unsuitability for even basic rehabilitation programming.

“It’s imperative the government waste no more time getting the shovel in the ground,” said Chris Jackel, chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division. “They can show the strong leadership the previous government sorely lacked and get the jail built. As it stands right now, Thunder Bay jail is no place to work or live, and certainly not to get a new start on life.”

OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida is a correctional officer. He says the current jail does a grave disservice to inmates seeking a fresh start in life.

“As correctional staff members, we do everything possible to ensure that when inmates leave our institutions, they never come back. But in Thunder Bay, we’re stymied, because we can’t offer the basic rehabilitation programming mandated by the province. The government is failing all inmates, in particular, Indigenous inmates. They’re incarcerated largely because of systemic racism. The conditions at Thunder Bay Jail just add insult to injury.”

Thomas agrees, noting that inmates with mental health and addictions issues are also being shortchanged. “With the disgraceful lack of mental health supports in Ontario, particularly in the northwest, our institutions have become the mental health facilities of last resort. Half of our inmate population desperately needs help, but we can’t give it to them.

“It’s going to take at least five years to build a new jail,” he noted. “What’s the government waiting for now – a riot? Injuries and deaths? The people of Thunder Bay can’t wait any longer, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s time for concrete action.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Chris Jackel, cmjackel.corr.merc@gmail.com

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