Built at a cost of $1.3 billion, the Toronto South Detention Centre – the second-largest jail in Canada – opened to great fanfare on January 29, 2014, as a model public-private partnership (P3). Since then, the facility has been plagued with a string of structural deficiencies that have put the safety of both correctional staff and inmates in serious jeopardy.
The P3 model is touted as the wave of the future for financing large infrastructure projects. In theory, governments have private companies build and manage projects at the lowest price, thereby ensuring value for taxpayer dollars. In practice, while private hands scoop up public dollars, taxpayers pick up the tab to repair shoddy work.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services rebuffed all offers of input from correctional officers into its design and development. Although the facility was completed in November 2012, design issues, including missing fences and IT glitches – prevented it from opening for 15 more months. Even after that delay, serious problems continued long after the first inmates entered.
Rodger Noakes, President of OPSEU Local 5112, says shortcuts and cheap materials have made shareholders happy – but put lives at risk. “To save on maintenance costs, they went with generic software. The software integrates a vast number of functions: everything from lock mechanisms to elevators to lights to monitoring. When one function goes down, it takes others with it. So if the intercom is out, the doors may not open. Can you imagine how dangerous that is?”
Noakes recites a litany of defects and deficiencies: floors and walls are splitting, shatter-proof windows are breaking and 2,300 cameras aren’t working. Hundreds of variances to the design have been paid for by the ministry – at an undisclosed cost to taxpayers.
“To save on energy costs, we can no longer turn on the special ventilation system to expel fumes without permission from the management company – permission that is seldom given,” explains Noakes. “So staff and inmates inhale hazardous toxins while management pads its bottom line.”
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the superjail is just another example of the folly of using private enterprise to provide public services. “Toronto South is a costly boondoggle. The Auditor General said Ontarians have paid $8 billion more on P3s than if they had been delivered publicly. That number is now closer to $10 billion – hard-earned taxpayer dollars put into the pockets of Wynne’s friends and benefactors. The Liberals talk about austerity, but always find ways to take care of their associates on Bay Street.”
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President, OPSEU Local 5112