I invited Ontario’s political leaders to tour of the Toronto (Don) Jail with me so they could get a first-hand look at the conditions where our members work.
So far, only NDP Leader Howard Hampton and MPP Peter Kormos, the party’s corrections critic, have taken me up on it.
I think our tour on Feb. 27 was an eye-opener for all of us.
Jeff Dvorak, president of Local 530 and our members working at the jail — and even the jail managers — were very cordial and patient with us..
They sure have their hands full. The way the old jail is designed, the inmates rule the roost. Officers are outnumbered at least 40 to one.
But what struck me most was the upbeat outlook of the staff – they want to do a good job in a healthy atmosphere, but it’s an uphill battle every day. The Don is always about 130 per cent over-capacity, inmates stacked three to a cell.
Judges think the place is so deplorable they take three month’s credit off a sentence for every month an inmate spends in the Don.
Pity the people working there don’t get the same consideration, not to mention our Probation and Parole Officers who have to deal with them on the street.
The overcrowded conditions and lack of ventilation are obvious incubators for all kinds of communicable diseases, and it doesn’t help that the building itself is falling apart – didn’t they promise to close it 20 years ago?
Ontario has closed a score of smaller jails and replaced them with three so-called “superjails,” but from what our members say, overall conditions have not improved much. Continued downsizing and closures of mental health facilities has resulted in people with psychiatric problems being warehoused in jails. In most facilities, the number of inmates with mental health issues ranges between 20-30 per cent, or higher.
That’s a good reason why I think we need a thorough examination of the correctional system, and I’ve called on the government to take us up on it.
If Dalton McGuinty won’t personally tour the jail, maybe he could send a task force.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas