It was good news, with some important details left out.
When the province announced on Thursday plans to build a long-awaited, 325-bed, multipurpose jail and correctional facility in Thunder Bay, it didn’t say how much it will cost, when it will be built, or where it will go.
Asked to give his best guess, MPP Bill Mauro — who was given credit by municipal and union officials for helping the project along — declined Thursday.
In a prepared statement, Mauro said: “This new facility will address the current health and safety conditions faced by our correctional staff and inmates’ living conditions.”
The announcement, accompanied by a proposed 725-bed facility in Ottawa, is in part a response to the Sapers report urging the province to address poor and cramped conditions for inmates.
Widely reported was the case of Adam Capay, a 23-year-old Thunder Bay inmate charged with murdering a fellow inmate — 35-year-old Sherman Kirby Quisses — at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre. Capay spent four years in segregation at the city’s chronically overcrowded District Jail until his case was raised by the Ontario’s Human Rights Commission last year.
In the absence of details Thursday, many were left to speculate that the new “approved” Thunder Bay facility is to be built at the site of the existing Correctional Centre property on Highway 61.
“I personally believe that’s where it’s going to go,” said Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 708 steward Mike Lundy.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs agreed.
“I would hope that the facility will be built on the Highway 61 site,” said Hobbs, a retired police officer.
Lundy, who is a correctional officer at the Thunder Bay centre, went further, believing that the province will start preparing the ground for the new combined facility as early as this summer.
“I think the Thunder Bay site is good to go,” said Lundy. “There’s lots of room and it’s already zoned (for a correctional facility).”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services acknowledged there is no specific line in the 2017 budget for a new Thunder Bay multi-purpose jail, but “we will build it, there is money set aside.”
Another provincial official would only say that the province plans to spend $190 billion on various infrastructure projects over the next 13 years.
In the legislature Thursday, NDP Correctional Services critic Taras Natyshak said she hoped the facilities planned for Thunder Bay and Ottawa don’t amount to another “late-to-the game Liberal make-their-friends-rich scheme, with correctional staff left to pick up the pieces.”
“Correctional staff, inmates and the public don’t need another poorly, privately built Toronto (area) facility, with broken locks and windows and unused nursing stations,” Natyshak added.
Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde didn’t address Natyshak specifically, but said the province is committed to re-define segregation “and improving the conditions of confinement.”
“Segregation will only be used as the absolute last resort,” Lalonde said during the exchange.
Currently, Thunder Bay’s correctional centre has room for about 140 inmates.
The aging MacDougall Street jail in the city’s north end can hold a similar amount, but has often been full or above capacity.
In December 2015, a guard was taken hostage and badly beaten during a riot at the jail, and hasn’t returned to work.
Lundy said the jail has sometimes held about 175 inmates.
The union can accept the proposed combined new capacity of 325 beds in the short term, but says it will push for more beds in the future.
Lundy said that the new combined facility should have closer to 400 beds. OPSEU represents 260 workers combined at the two existing facilities.
Current River Coun. Andrew Foulds, whose ward includes the existing jail, noted the stone structure located near St. Ignatius High School is an impressive site and should remain in public hands after it ceases its present use.
“Not only is it a beautiful building, it has a lot of historical value,” Foulds said.
Related story/A7 inside Friday's print and digital edition of The Chronicle-Journal.