Staff say the new Kenora Jail could be the first step towards a transformation and revitalization of Ontario’s correctional system.
The new 50-unit facility is a major expansion to the Kenora District Jail, which was first built in 1926, and offers a wide range of new services and supports for both inmates and staff operating the building. It's a model that could spread throughout Ontario, if successful.
Former jail staff, retirees and families of current staff were all invited to the new jail on October 19 for a tour of the facility. Staff noted the tour helped to ease family’s concerns about staff members’ new environment – and to show off its many upgrades and improvements to former staff.
The gray steel and blue addition next to the original jail’s brick facade, will house 50 of the jail’s best-behaved male inmates, who will all have to pass a board’s review to get accepted into the new facility. If they misbehave, they can be sent back to the original jail.
Staff explain that every inmate within the jail must be receiving education or social supports, which are all in place through a variety of community partners who have offices within the building. The programs all aim to support the inmate’s safe reintegration into the community.
Once inside, inmates will be separated into two identical 25-bed living units – labelled the East and West wings. Inmates will each have their own room, clothes, bed and washroom which they’ll be in charge of maintaining, and they’ll be offered up to 16 hours of activity time, compared to the usual 12 hours.
For context, in the original jail, it wasn’t uncommon for inmates to be housed three and four to a cell – with inmates sleeping under bunks or on the floor next to the toilet for extended periods.
While out of their rooms, inmates will have the ability to walk freely through their half of the building – which includes a gym and basketball net, video calling booths to reach their families, televisions, board games, showers and a kitchenette. There’s even heated floors throughout each wing.
Inmates will also have access to an Indigenous Healing Room and an Indigenous cultural space outdoors, which includes a Teepee and a healing lodge that’s still under construction. Indigenous language can also be seen incorporated into every sign throughout the building.
Union members noted that they were involved in the design of the Indigenous spaces within the building and worked to incorporate culture at every opportunity – as well as helped to design the facility’s state-of-the-art security system and accessibility features.
Each staff member will be in charge of a personal alarm which can activate in a variety of ways, doors and entranceways are automatically locked and monitored by a team of security staff, and just under 600 cameras are up and running in the new building.
To put that into perspective, the original jail has a total of 3 cameras. Thankfully, the new jail's security system is being replicated and will be brought over to the original jail in the coming months.
A similar new build is also being planned for Thunder Bay, also under Bird Construction. Parts of the building were modular and shipped from China, expediting the construction process.
The two announcements were made in 2020 by Kenora – Rainy River MPP, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, Greg Rickford – as well as former Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
While staff seemed excited for their new environment, many noted that the jail is still in dire need of front-line staff immediately. The jail’s hoping to hold a job fair in the future, and staff note they have the option to work in the old jail or the new expansion.
Last week, Ontario announced the hiring of 98 new correctional officer graduates across the province – with 26 coming to the north. Later, the Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed that only two graduates will be coming to the Kenora Jail.