[URBAN NOTE] Raizel Robin in Toronto Life on the Toronto South Detention Centre
Raizel Robin's long-form article in Toronto Life, "The $1-Billion Hellhole", makes the case that the very new Toronto South Detention Centre--only three years old!--is already terribly dysfunctional thanks to any number of problems from staff issues to design flaws, this after having been built at tremendous financial cost to the province.
Before the South opened on January 27, 2014, Ontario’s provincial jails were notorious for being overcrowded, medieval, violent places. The second Don Jail, completed in 1958, wasn’t much better than the original: rats and cockroaches scurried about and black mould grew on walls. Three inmates were often crammed into four-by-eight-foot cells meant for two, with the third man sleeping on the floor, his head next to the toilet. The Toronto West Detention Centre in Rexdale, built in 1976 and retrofitted in the 1990s, was almost as overcrowded and had become a money pit.
In 2008, the Liberals under Premier Dalton McGuinty approved plans for a new, more progressive facility. McGuinty wanted Ontario’s jails to reflect modern incarceration philosophy, which emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment. The new superjail, the Toronto South Detention Centre, would be capable of housing 1,650 inmates—50 per cent more capacity than the Don and the West combined—making it Canada’s second-largest jail, after the Edmonton Remand Centre. When it came to selecting an architect, the Liberals chose Zeidler, the prestigious firm behind the Eaton Centre’s soaring galleria and the old Ontario Place.
Visit the South today and, were it not for the receptionists seated behind protective glass or the chairs bolted to the floor, the airy three-storey reception area, with its exposed brick and skylit entryway, could pass for a condo lobby. The 73,000-square-metre building, which is LEED Silver certified with a ground-source heat exchanger and low-flush toilets, occupies the site of the former Mimico Correctional Centre in south Etobicoke. Behind the main building are three seven-storey, sand-coloured towers, set off from each other at slight angles. The effect is more chic New Mexico college than imposing superjail.
Inside, there are spaces for Aboriginal inmates to hold sweat lodge or smudging ceremonies, two multi-faith spaces with footbaths for Muslim inmates, a state-of-the-art 35-bed infirmary and a 26-bed mental health assessment unit. The seven-by-16-foot cells are spacious compared to the Don. The units, made up of 20 cells each, are split into two floors and arranged around a communal living room like motel suites surrounding a pool.
Initially, the South seemed like a double-pronged victory for the Liberals: the facility was praised for its design, and the construction process was relatively cost-effective—an important consideration for a government trying to slay a $10.5-billion deficit and manage the fallout from the gas plant scandal. Still, the total bill to the taxpayer was hefty: $1.1 billion, which was to be paid out over 30 years.