The Hamilton Spectator

‘I’ll build as many jails as we need’

Ford vows to construct as many facilities as required to keep criminals behind bars in Ontario

- LIAM CASEY

MILTON Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged Friday to build more jails as data shows the inmate population surged over the last year to the point where the vast majority of correction­al institutio­ns are well over capacity.

Ford, speaking at an unrelated housing announceme­nt in Milton, Ont., said he’d construct as many jails as needed in Ontario.

“I’m going to be building more jails and I’m not worried about the criminals,” he said when asked about the overcrowde­d system.

“I’ll build as many jails as we need to put these criminals behind bars for a long time.”

Data obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom-of-informatio­n laws shows the majority of Ontario jails are over capacity. Meanwhile, the province has said 81 per cent of inmates in provincial jails are awaiting trial and presumptiv­ely innocent.

Criminal lawyers and correction­al officers have said the jam-packed jails have deleteriou­s effects on both inmates and jail guards.

The union representi­ng correction­al officers says inmates are triple bunking in several institutio­ns, while guards are dealing with increased assaults and struggling with their mental health.

The Criminal Lawyers Associatio­n says accused individual­s are taking longer to get to a bail hearing, contributi­ng to the rise in jail population­s.

As of Sept. 30, 2023, there was an average of 8,889 people in provincial jails, well over the 7,848-person capacity, and about 1,000 more inside jails on average compared to the year before.

Maplehurst Correction­al Complex, not far from where Ford’s housing announceme­nt took place Friday, is the province’s most overcrowde­d jail, operating at 134 per cent capacity in 2023, average inmate data shows.

Provincial jails hold people accused of a crime but not out on bail, as well as those serving sentences of two years less a day. Inmates serving sentences of two years or longer spend their days in the federal prison system.

The province is already building a new 345-bed jail in Thunder Bay, Ont., that will replace the current jail and double its capacity. The government also plans to build a 235bed jail in eastern Ontario, but that project has met opposition from locals who don’t want to see it built on prime farmland.

The Criminal Lawyers Associatio­n said Ford’s pledge to build more jails is nothing more than “political rhetoric.”

“If and when the premier wants to engage in a serious discussion about finding ongoing solutions to continue to improve Ontario’s criminal justice system and the public’s perception of it, the Criminal Lawyers Associatio­n remains committed to participat­ing and doing its part to assist,” said Boris Bytensky, the associatio­n’s president.

Bytensky said the province should replace “old, often unsuitable and desperatel­y overpopula­ted” jails.

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