Ontario’s solicitor general was in St. Thomas on Friday morning to announce funding for a mental health initiative but wound up taking questions about London’s Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
Sylvia Jones helped take the wraps off $140,000 in funding for a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team in St. Thomas and Elgin County. Then, reporters asked her about the letter she was sent by the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Renu Mandhane.
The letter was a scathing review of the jail, calling it overcrowded, unsanitary, dangerous, and exhibiting conditions that are dehumanizing.
Jones was asked if she considers it a safe place.
“Corrections facilities by their very nature are at a higher level of risk. It is our job as a government, our job as a community, to mitigate that risk as much as we possibly can through staff training, through facilities that keep our staff and our inmates safe,” she replied.
“But it is something that cannot be a simple one change will make the difference. There are quantitative things that have to happen through the whole system and we’re doing that as a government now.”
When asked if the facility should be torn down, she said that it would not make the community any safer.
“The reality is that we have over 100 individuals in that institution who have been told to be there by the judiciary system. We don’t have a waiting list in the province of Ontario.”
Jones said she would never be proud of a facility where inmates are at risk, but said the government is committed to improving conditions at EMDC. In its April budget, the province pledged to hire more correctional officers and enhance security at EMDC.
— with files from 980 CFPL’s Jess Brady and Andrew Graham.