THUNDER BAY – Measures to alleviate overcrowding at the Thunder Bay District Jail have reduced the inmate count during the last week, though the facility still remains over capacity.
With 165 inmates as of Thursday morning, the count at the nearly century-old jail has dropped by 29 prisoners compared to March 14.
OPSEU Local 737 president Brad Slobodian said a number of inmates have been transferred to other jails in the eastern parts of the province, and low-risk inmates have been sent to the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre on Highway 61.
“We have another transfer scheduled for (Friday) but we keep getting new arrivals and that won’t stop,” Slobodian said.
Moving inmates from the district jail, a provincial remand centre, to the correctional centre is not standard practice.
Slobodian said the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ northern regional director has helped make the change in policy to have some of the inmates transferred to the correctional centre.
“Usually they have to be sentenced to go (to the correctional centre) and they’re usually minimum security,” Slobodian said.
“We’ve been circumventing policy a little bit to alleviate the pressure here and we’ve classified those inmates to go there.”
Slobodian said the geography of Northwestern Ontario presents a challenge, as there are limited options to transfer inmates, particularly as other regional facilities are dealing with their own issues.
The frequency of transfers is increasing, with seven or eight inmates moved to the correctional centre at a time and as many as 12 sent out east.
“Our goal is to get a transfer out east and west every week, if we can,” Slobodian said. “It used to be alternate weeks but we’re trying to get them out the same week now.”
The overcrowding has led to a rise in inmate-on-inmate violence, which Slobodian said is resulting in daily assaults.
With bed space for 147 inmates, the tight quarters and the need to house inmates in temporary spaces like program and visitation areas is causing tensions to rise.
“We had no room in any of the ranges to put them,” Slobodian said. “Ultimately, two (per cell) would be the number. We’ve had three on a consistent basis and sometimes four.”
Slobodian said visits for inmates had been suspended for five days from March 14 through Monday, largely as a result of inmates being temporarily housed in the visitation spaces.