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OPSEU backs Thunder Bay on new jail

Thunder Bay – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has strongly endorsed a Thunder Bay City Council resolution calling on the Ontario government to “approve the funding necessary” to build a new provincial jail in Thunder Bay.

The troubled 90-year-old facility was the site of a major riot in December of last year that saw a correctional officer taken hostage, then sent to hospital, along with three inmates. Last month, an inmate escaped through a service entry, underscoring concerns about safety and security.

Michael Lundy, a steward with OPSEU Local 737 representing frontline correctional staff at the jail, was pleased with the resolution, noting that municipal and provincial politicians – including Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro and Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle – staff, union representatives, and the John Howard Society have been calling for a new facility for many years.

“After the riot, [former corrections minister] Yasir Naqvi talked a good line about transformation,” said Lundy, “but he refused to give any timeline for a new jail. So we continue to work in a decrepit, overcrowded, understaffed facility with very little access to rehabilitation.

“The minister underscored the key role of rehabilitation in a transformed correctional system. Well, to provide rehabilitation, you have to have the facilities. And right now, Thunder Bay Jail doesn’t.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the state of the facility was clear evidence of the continuing crisis in Ontario corrections.

“I toured the jail in the wake of the riot. The place is literally falling apart. Inmates are piled up two and three in tiny cells built for one. And there’s minimal rehabilitation happening to help turn inmates into contributing members of society.

“I shouldn’t have to tell this government that repeat offending will cost the province vastly more than building a new facility,” Thomas continued. “That’s why OPSEU wholeheartedly supports Thunder Bay council in its ongoing efforts to get the government onside.”

The President said there was no excuse for delay. “The plans for the jail were completed in 2002. All that’s needed is a nod from David Orazietti. So I ask the minister: what are you waiting for?”

For more information: Michael Lundy, 807-472-1951

Related: Crisis In Corrections index page