THUNDER BAY - Tuesday's escape by an inmate from the Thunder Bay District Jail could have been prevented by something as simple as a perimeter fence, according to correctional staff.
Mike Lundy, a correctional officer and president of OPSEU Local 737, said crumbling infrastructure and the absence of basic structures like a perimeter fence are putting the public at risk.
“I can tell you that improvements to infrastructure that we requested for the last couple of years would have prevented this escape, or at the very least strongly deterred it,” Lundy said.
On Tuesday, 48-year-old Philip Robert Crosby escaped through a service entrance at the District Jail. Crosby is still at large after Thunder Bay Police and Ontario Provincial Police searched the area Tuesday afternoon. The search has since been terminated and police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Crosby.
Crosby was with a correctional staff member when he escaped from the facility. When he exited the building, there were no other obstacles to prevent his escape.
According to Lundy, nothing at the District Jail has really changed since the 2015 riot that saw prisoners take control of the top floor of the jail, hold one correctional officer hostage, and assault several other inmates.
More staff have been brought on following the riot, which has reduced tensions among inmates, but Lundy said the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services continues to put the safety of the inmates, staff, and the public at risk.
“They need a new jail,” he said. “But I’m not naive enough to think that a new jail is going to happen overnight. So it’s going to be two-fold: they are going to have to pay to fix the infrastructure of the 100-year-old jail that they’ve ignored for the last few years. They are decommissioning jails in southern Ontario that were built forty years after the Thunder Bay jail, yet we can’t get a new jail up here.
“They are going to have to spend money on a new jail, and they are going to have to spend money to fix the infrastructure at the decaying crumbling jail that we have going right now."
Lundy has written a letter to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, David Orazietti, following the escape, detailing the concerns of correctional staff at the District Jail.
“We’ve always had a very strong concern about the fact that there’s a high school right next door, a neighbourhood, and until recently an old folk’s home,” Lundy said. “And we are a maximum security jail that holds murders, rapists, child molesters - the worst of the worst here in Thunder Bay.”
According to Lundy, three things need to change immediately at the District Jail, which include adding sally ports, a perimeter fence, and addressing staffing audits. But the long-term solution is a new facility.
“I’ve heard rumours that 2024 is the date we’re looking at and that’s not acceptable, it’s too far away,” Lundy said. “But if that is the date that is going to happen, they have to make some improvements to this building for now.”
The District Jail is at capacity and Lundy said that without infrastructure improvements to the building or the addition of a perimeter fence, another escape is not only likely, but next time it could be even worse.
“Who knows what can happen,” Lundy said. “It’s a scary place inside. It’s essentially the worst of the worst in the community that we supervise and I’m scared to think of what could happen next.”
Michael Gravelle, MPP for Thunder Bay - Superior North, said he was informed of the escape on Tuesday and said it is an alarming situation, particularly for the people living in the area of the District Jail.
Gravelle said the escape is another example of why the region needs a new jail and he will continue to fight for it.
"I know that there is a great effort being put forward to make the case for a new jail," Gravelle said. "This is a 90-year-old jail and I am going to continue to lobby to see that happen. It is important to have the safest possible facility, not just for those who are in the facility but the people who work there every day."
Gravelle did not provide any specific details, but added that he will continue to fight for improvements to the current District Jail as well.
"I haven’t had a chance to have a conversation with Mr. Lundy or anyone else at the jail but I will be continuing to work to make sure we have the safest possible institution until we get a new jail," he said.