Briefing note (Nov. 14, 2012): Toronto South Detention Centre

As I understand, it has been difficult to obtain information about the new jail, although I would add that some reports are available:

March 6, 2013 Toronto Star article: “Etobicoke superjail sits empty because province can’t staff it, union says”

March 2, 2013 Toronto Star article: “Jail staffers fall ill after being served chicken that fell on floor”

Sept. 12, 2012 Etobicoke Guardian article: “Mimico superjail concerns raised at meeting”

April 29, 2012 Etobicoke Guardian article: “Construction of new superjail continues”

Overviews are also available at:

Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services website

The following briefing note from the City of Toronto will, I trust, be of interest.

November 14, 2012 briefing note

Susan Shepherd, Manager
Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat
Public Health
44 Victoria Street
18 Floor
Toronto, Ontario  M5C 1Y2
Tel:  416 338-0923
Fax: 416 338-1643

FOR Information: Toronto South Detention Centre

The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is preparing to open the Toronto South Detention Centre on the site of the former Mimico Correctional Centre.   It is located at 160 Horner Avenue in south Etobicoke (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Councillor Mark Grimes).   The facility is scheduled to open in April 2013.

The Toronto South Detention Centre will be a ‘superjail’, replacing both the Toronto (Don) Jail and the Toronto West Detention Centre.  It will hold 1,650 men detained on remand (held while awaiting court hearings) in maximum security.  In addition, the Toronto Intermittent Centre is located onsite.  This 320 bed facility holds men serving weekend sentences, open as of December 2011.

In Ontario, 67% of people in provincial prisons are detained on remand, and this number is increasing.  Of this number, 47% will return to the community with no further correctional supervision[1].  A recent John Howard Society of Toronto study found that one in five GTA prisoners were homeless when they entered custody, and one in three would be homeless at discharge[2].   The average length of stay in custody for prisoners on remand is 34 days[3].

Specific Information about the facility:

  • The Toronto South Detention Centre will hold men from across the GTA; no women will be held there.
  • Information provided to the community by the facility Director, Rose Buhagiar[4]:
  • Each week, it is expected that 210 men will be admitted, and 180 will be released.
  • There will be a mental health assessment unit.
  • Programs will be available at an introductory or orientation level.  (Most people on remand in Ontario do not have the option of participating in programs unless they are offered onsite by a community agency.)  Topics will include anger management, life skills, substance use, and ‘anti-criminal thinking’.
  • There will be multi-faith chaplains and worship space.
  • There will be an Aboriginal-specific program space and sweat lodge ceremony space.
  • Men will be able to work toward high school credits or work on literacy or numeracy skills.
  • Visits will be through video booths only (no face-to-face visits except in special circumstances).
  • Discharge planning begins at admission and worked on over the period of incarceration ‘for those who require’ support.  Ms. Buhagiar stated that discharge planning will happen with the help of ‘discharge planning partners’ including John Howard Society, CMHA, and Salvation Army.

Proposed Reintegration Centre:

The John Howard Society of Toronto is leading a group of community participants and agencies who are working to develop a Reintegration Centre close to the Toronto South Detention Centre site.  The proposed Reintegration Centre would ‘triage’ men as they leave the jail.  Staff would offer one-stop help to address basic needs, find shelter, and provide links to a range of services in the community.  As the focus will be triage only, there will not be a drop-in centre, nor would men return to attend appointments here.

John Howard Society of Toronto has received a grant from the Urban Land Institute to support development of this facility, including links to professionals with expertise in urban planning, real estate, architecture and design.  Several agencies have expressed interest in either co-locating in the proposed facility, or attending the site regularly to offer service.   United Way staff have been attending planning meetings although have not offered any funding to date.

The ideal site, as perceived by this group, is a small vacant parcel of land adjacent to the Toronto South Detention Centre site, owned by the City of Toronto, and under lease to another party.  They are exploring how this might be sub-leased.  Other sites in the area are also being considered.

Health Issues and Key Points:

There are several ongoing issues from a health perspective with the provincial correctional system.  Some of these were highlighted in the Ontario Ombudsman’s Annual Report for 2011-2012[5], such as lack of access to appropriate health care and medications.  The Toronto Drug Strategy (TDS) notes the need for access to harm reduction and treatment service options, as well as improved discharge planning.  There is little to indicate that the Toronto South Detention Centre will function differently than other institutions.  Ms. Buhagiar’s statement about discharge planning indicates a continued reliance on community services that are already overwhelmed, and often have difficulty getting into provincial prisons to deliver services.  The proposed Reintegration Centre could provide critical services and referrals when men leave custody.

Rates of Hepatitis C and HIV infection among Ontario prisoners are an important public health problem.  A study[6] of remanded prisoners found that 16% of males, 30% of females, and 55% of injection drug users were HCV positive.  Both male and female prisoners in this study had a 2% HIV infection rate.  Study authors noted that these infection rates are much higher than in the general population.  They also estimated that 9,208 HCV-positive adults and 1,079 HIV-positive adults were admitted to Ontario remand facilities over the 2003-4 year.

Consultation with the area community has reportedly been minimal.  A town hall meeting was held in April 2012, attended by 125 area residents.  The facility Director, Rose Buhagiar, spoke at the LAMP Community Health Centre AGM on September 20, 2012.   The concerns raised by local residents at this meeting were about community safety both when men are released, and in the event of an escape from custody.

Toronto Public Health Involvement:

The Urban Issues team is concerned about risks to the social determinants of health caused by the lack of services for both those already infected with HIV/HCV and for those at risk while incarcerated.  Men leaving the institution may have complex needs related to poverty, health and housing.  The TDS Criminal Justice Working Group is supporting John Howard in planning the proposed Reintegration Centre.   Both Urban Issues and TDS staff are engaged in this process at present.  Presumably, TPH TB nurses and CDC will also be involved with the new jail.   Urban Issues/TDS staff will communicate with the TB and other CDC managers to ensure they are aware of the issues.

Prepared by:

Jayne Caldwell, Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat, Healthy Communities

Julia Barnett, Urban Issues Team, Healthy Communities

Contact for further information:  Jayne Caldwell or Julia Barnett

Date: November 14, 2012


[1] Lindsay Porter and Donna Calverley.  Trends on the Use of Remand in Canada.  Juristat Article, Statistics Canada.  Catalogue no. 85-002-X, Ottawa, May 17, 2011.

[2] John Howard Society of Toronto.  Homeless and Jailed: Jailed and Homeless.  Toronto, August 2010.

[3] John Howard Society of Ontario.  The Missing Link: Discharge planning, incarceration and homelessness. Toronto, 2006.

[4] Rose Buhagiar spoke to south Etobicoke community members at LAMP’s Annual General Meeting, Sept. 20, 2012.

[5] Ombudsman Ontario.  2011-2012 Annual Report.  Toronto, 2012.

[6] Liviana Calzavara, Nancy Ramuscak, Ann. N. Burchell et al.  Prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis C virus infections among inmates of Ontario remand facilities.  CMAJ 177(3), 257-261, July 31, 2007, DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.060416.

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