THUNDER BAY - A recent fire at the Thunder Bay District Jail is just one of many ongoing issues facing the overcrowded facility, and recent changes by the provincial government to how inmates are punished, is only making things worse says the union president.
“This is another serious incident and they keep happening,” said Brad Slobodian, president of OPSEU Local 737 for the Thunder Bay District Jail. “Even though we have our count down lower than before, a lot of it has to do with the Ministry’s policies in regard to segregation.”
Emergency crews were called to the District Jail Tuesday morning after a mattress was lit on fire that sent thick smoke through the building. Several inmates required treatment for smoke inhalation.
According to Slobodian, these types of incidents that put the safety of inmates and staff at risk, continue to happen partly because the inmates responsible no longer face significant repercussions, such as extended time in segregation, now known as behavioural care units.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Solicitor General brought forward new policies that limit the amount of time an inmate can spend in a BCU.
“No placement in administrative or disciplinary segregation will exceed 15 continuous days,” the report by the Ministry reads.
“When inmates commit misconducts like this, they don’t do as much time up there anymore, it’s limited, they get all the same perks up there as their ranges, and we don’t have the space,” Slobodian said. “Now they have TV, their canteen, and it’s quiet up there.”
“When we get addicted, mental health inmates into the jail, we need that space for them, so we have to move those inmates back to their cells.”
The century-old jail is still faced with overcrowding. As of Wednesday, the facility that can accommodate 144 inmates had a total of 148.
While the holiday season often sees more inmates granted bail, Slobodian said tensions are still high inside because more and more inmates are forced to share limited space and there are concerns something worse than a small fire may happen.
“There’s always concerns about that, especially with the type of inmate we are getting lately with all the gangs coming up here,” he said. “I have to commend the staff the other day for how they responded to it and I have to give a shout out to the Correctional Centre because they sent some staff out here to help out.”
The former Liberal government in Ontario promised a 325-bed facility to replace the existing District Jail, and last spring the PC government committed to bringing the new facility here.
But that does not change the situation at the District Jail now, Slobodian said, and staff continue to try and maintain a worsening situation.
“There’s really not much that can be done,” he said. “We are stuck with this building probably for five more years. It’s just keeping the wheels from falling off the cart on a daily basis.”
“We will just respond to crisis like we usually do. There’s not much we can do. We are hampered with this building. We are hampered with policies.”