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Provincial prisons expanding in Eastern Ontario

James Morgan
The former Prescott and Russell counties jail in L'Orignal, Ont., now a museum.

While the State of New York continues attempts to reduce the number of prisons, Ontario is increasing the size and number of correctional facilities in the eastern region of the province, neighboring New York.

From the 1960s-1990s, the Ontario government took over the operation of county jails and gradually closed many of the facilities in favor of larger, consolidated regional facilities. The former jail for Prescott and Russell counties in L’Orignal is one example. It operated until the late 1990s and is now a museum. 

In Canada, all criminal law is regulated by the federal Criminal Code of Canada. However, provincial and county jails are used as remand facilities and to house inmates serving sentences of less than two years. All inmates serving two years or more go to federal prisons. The provincial facilities are also used for immigration detention and for inmates awaiting transfer to federal facilities, including the five in the Kingston area.

Problems with overcrowding and concerns over the use of solitary confinement at provincial correctional facilities in Ontario have emerged in recent years. The situation at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in Ottawa has been particularly serious. 

On August 27, the Ontario government announced a significant investment in public safety and strengthening justice services by modernizing the adult correctional system across Eastern Ontario. New construction and building upgrades will update facilities, address issues of overcrowding, and create new spaces for the delivery of mental health services, inmate programming and staff training.

“Our frontline correctional staff have been absolute champions throughout the pandemic, putting their communities first and keeping all of us safe,” said Premier Doug Ford. “By making these important investments in Eastern Ontario, we will upgrade our corrections infrastructure, better protect our correctional officers and contribute to our economic recovery through these new construction projects.”

“The Ontario government is making a substantial investment that will transform the corrections system in Eastern Ontario,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, whose department oversees correctional services. “Modernizing outdated infrastructure and building new facilities will create a better and safer environment for our hard-working frontline staff and address overcrowding in many of our institutions.”

The modernization strategy for Ontario’s Eastern Region includes building a new Greater Ottawa Correctional Complex on an existing government-owned site in Kemptville to improve staff and inmate safety. The land was part of the former provincial agricultural college campus.

The Brockville Jail, one of the last old county jail buildings still in use, which was built in 1842 and is currently the oldest in the province, will be replaced with a new facility that will increase capacity and improve access to services and programming. 

The St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre, also located in Brockville, and the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, west of Kingston, will be expanded to improve mental health services for women who are incarcerated and add capacity. 

The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road in Ottawa will be renovated to better accommodate programming for inmates and other initiatives. 

The Eastern Region Strategy builds on the government’s plan to invest $500 million over five years to modernize correctional facilities and support frontline corrections officers across the province, including the hiring of more than 500 new correctional staff. The Eastern Region Strategy will provide benefits throughout the area for years to come, including creating jobs and supporting local businesses during construction and providing jobs to residents once the projects are completed. As a result, these projects will help stimulate the economy over the long term as Ontario moves into the next phase of recovery from COVID-19. 

“These critical investments demonstrate our government’s ongoing commitment to our incredible frontline corrections workers, while also providing an important boost to our local economy,” said Steve Clark, who is the member of the Ontario Legislature for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, the district which includes Brockville and Kemptville.

“I am so proud today’s announcement includes expanding the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre to provide treatment for female inmates with serious mental health needs. This is a project I have worked on for years alongside community leaders to build on the expertise we have now at the facility,” he said.

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