The province is working to improve conditions at the Kenora Jail, including the creation of a new type of remand facility in the city. In testimony before the court last year, jail superintendent Steve Walker describes dealing with gangs, their use of solitary confinement as well as lockdowns.
"One of the central challenges in the jail population is the transient population ie: inmates can be part of a gang and in opposition with another gang member, not getting along. Because of the TransCanada Highway, we have inmates who are in jail due to drug running and are not from here. This can cause fights in the blocks. My role is always to ensure safety of staff and public," he says in the summary provided by retired defence counsel Peter Kirby.
The testimony was being provided in connection with a previous riot, where emergency crews and support staff were called in to respond. Walker says there was a lot of smoke, damage done to the block in question. He added his staff were unable to attend another block of cells, because items were being thrown at them and rioters wouldn't let them through.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford is also a senior member of provincial cabinet, and he visited the jail last month. He's working with staff and the minister responsible for corrections on an action plan.
In the plan, the minister looked at items they can tackle in the immediate future, as well as the mid-term. He hoped to revisit the jail for follow-up meetings, noting he spent about four hours talking with staff during his visit in November.
The visit followed a hostage-taking and fires earlier in the fall.
In his testimony last year, Walker said the high turn over rates were a challenge.
"The most difficult to manage at the jail is the high remand count. It causes increased tensions in the jail. There are 'fight clubs' in the jail where three to four inmates will be told to fight on one inmate. In Corrections, maybe 10 per cent, we know that are in gangs," the superintendent estimated.
The jail has 129 beds for males, but at the time of the testimony 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.
An average stay in the jail is eight to 12 weeks. In 2016, Walker says they dealt with 4,000 inmates, with 94 per cent aboriginal and 84 per cent on remand.
The jail also has a segregration unit, with four cells for the male unit. It's used to isolate inmates for further security, behaviour, suicide watch or a mental health issue. Those inmates that are in protective custody do not participate in programs. Segregation is 24-hour lock-up with the mandatory 20 minutes for outside.
There are daily visits by correctional manager, mental health nurse, rehab officer, social worker and chaplain. The time for inmates to go outside can also be weather permitting and staffing.
"To lessen the remand count would be ideal," he says in his testimony.
Earlier this year, the city approved the rezoning for a continuum of care facility planned for the east highway in Kenora. It would provide housing and programs for clients involved in the legal system.
The province has also been working on a community justice centre in Kenora. The initiative proposed would include:
Include parallel criminal and restorative justice processes Provide supportive methods for helping offenders exit the justice system at an early stage Collaborate with local Indigenous leadership to provide culturally-appropriate and restorative criminal justice practices
A new shelter facility downtown will also provide more supports for those who are homeless or on the street.
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