Ottawa, Thunder Bay to get new jails, construction expected to start within two years

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thunder bay jail
The Thunder Bay jail, originally built in the 1920s. (Google maps.)

The provincial government has announced it plans to build new jails in Ottawa and Thunder Bay with construction starting in about two years, but its announcement in early May lacked details about the cost, location, and design for the projects.

The announcement said “funding has been approved for the construction of a new 325-bed multi-purpose correctional centre to replace the existing Thunder Bay Jail and Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, as well as a new 725-bed multi-purpose correctional centre to replace the existing Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. This investment will help increase capacity and reduce overcrowding at provincial institutions.”

In an interview with Ontario Construction Report, Marie-France Lalonde, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said the project will be completed within five to seven years, though she expects that the facility will be open within six years.

regional detention ottawa
The regional detention centre on Innes Rd. in Ottawa

She said she is consulting with correctional officials and community partners at the first stage, and has already received expressions of interest from the design and construction industry about the project.

“A traditional build it’s about two years (so) between today and two years we’ll start construction,” she said.

As for the location, “everything is under review” and the decision hasn’t been made yet.

The announcement followed the release of a damning report on segregation in the province by Howard Sapers, the former federal corrections investigator.

Sapers found that the use of segregation has become the “default response” for dealing with mentally ill, disabled or other challenging inmates in Ontario’s jails, The Ottawa Citizen reported.

He made 63 recommendations to reduce its use, including investments in infrastructure — although he didn’t directly recommend the building of a new jail in Ottawa.

Ottawa’s Innes Rd. jail was built in 1972. It has been the subject of many critical reports and experiences, including situations where prisoners were housed in shower areas because of overcrowding.

University of Ottawa criminology professor Justin Piche estimated the cost of building the new jail in Ottawa at between $500 and $773 million, based on construction costs for the Toronto South Detention Centre and the Southwest Detention Centre in Windsor.

The Thunder Bay jail was built in the 1920s.

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