A hostage taking last fall has prompted action at the Kenora Jail. Six months after a corrections officer was taken hostage, the province announced measures to help make the institution safer.

"There was an obvious and immediate desire to upgrade and modernize certain pieces of certain critical infrastructure that were identified in the wake of the incident as being something we absolutely needed," said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, after yesterday's announcement.

Emergency crews responded to the jail in mid-September, after inmates took a correctional officer hostage. Fortunately, he was released hours later, but he has not yet returned to work. He has, however, spoken to other groups about his experience and his efforts to heal.

The action plan announced yesterday includes:

  • Upgrading infrastructure by hiring contracted maintenance staff to address pressing needs such as improving lighting, cameras, doors, and locks
  • Strengthening partnerships between corrections staff and police services, including counterparts in the northwest, to share information about gangs and potential threats within the jail.
  • Improving security by recruiting for a field intelligence officer to collect information and develop intelligence on potential threats
  • Increasing security for correctional staff by providing specialized equipment for the Institutional Crisis Intervention Team
  • Building new training and crisis ready rooms and implementing new procedures such as having more staff present when doors are unlocked or medical assistance is provided

No dollar amount was given for estimated cost of the work.

Union member Glenn Archer -- who was also the NDP candidate last spring -- was also on hand for Friday's announcement, and he offered his thoughts.

"I'm a little less than enthused about the human aspect here. We need bodies," he emphasized.

Staff at the jail estimate they're short 18 out of 54 positions. They're hoping to work with Seven Generations in Kenora, in an effort to train more new correctional officers to help fill gaps. A local training program might be particularly helpful for mature students, who may have family obligations. It might also help attract more First Nations candidates.

Overcrowding in the jail has meant cells built for one person were holding three and four inmates. The jail was originally built in 1926, but it has been expanded since then. It currently has 129 beds for males, but at the time of the court testimony in 2017 they had 149, along with another 40 female inmates. There are usually two inmates in each cell, but when the jail is overcrowded, a mattress on the floor is provided.

In the court case, the superintendent described the creation of fight clubs, and gang affiliations, which add to the tensions within the facility.

An average stay in the jail is eight to 12 weeks. In 2016, the superintendent said they dealt with 4,000 inmates. 

Between 2013 and 2016, the province said they'd hired 571 corrections officers across the province, and they were planning to add another 180, with some to be located at the Kenora Jail.

Last year, a lawyer with the attorney general's office estimated 89 per cent of inmates at the Kenora Jail were Indigenous, and 90 per cent of them were presumed innocent, as they awaited the outcome of their legal proceedings.

An overhaul of the justice system also includes:

  • a new service hub next to Knox United, created to help those on the street
  • a new continuum of care facility meant to offer programming and housing
  • a justice centre to help the vulnerable caught in the legal system
  • reforms to the bail system, to allow more reporting in remote communities and reduce court visits to Kenora

The Kenora Jail is one of Ontario’s 25 adult correctional institutions.

For more information:

Superintendent describes jail conditions

Slow progress on justice system

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