Five things you should know about our newest prison, the Toronto South Detention Centre, which will soon replace the infamous Don Jail.
A new superjail is rising up on the west end. It’s called the Toronto South Detention Centre (TSDC), and in 2013 it will open its cell blocks to prisoner transfers from the Toronto Jail (a.k.a. The Don Jail), Toronto West Detention Centre, and the Mimico Detention Centre, which formerly stood on the TSDC site. The state-of-the-art, all-male maximum-security prison—designed by Zeidler Partnership Architects—has a capacity of 1,650 remanded and convicted inmates serving terms under two years, plus another 320 beds in the adjoining Toronto Intermittent Centre for prisoners on weekend terms.
It’s a much overdue replacement for the aging Don Jail, which has long been a black mark on Toronto. Back in 2003, Justice Richard Schneider called it “an embarrassment to the Canadian criminal justice system”; in a court case from 2006, Schneider also said the Don failed to meet the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners. Over its 150-plus-year history, the Don became known for roach infestations, severe overcrowding, humiliating prisoner treatment, sewage overflows, and the fetid odour of sweat, feces, and urine. (Soon those deplorable conditions will become distant memories: The Bridgepoint Health Centre, which now owns the Don site, plans on renovating the infamous jail to expand its administrative facilities. The renaissance-revival styling of the old Don, however, is considered one of the City’s greatest architectural gems so it will be preserved and incorporated into the new hospital campus by a bridge connection.)
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services learned a few things from the Don Jail’s sordid legacy and have applied those lessons to the TSDC. The new prison was built to 21st-century incarceration standards in accordance with a “modernization strategy” that includes another new jail in Windsor. Here are five things you should know about Toronto’s newest jail:
1. Contractors assembled the cell blocks like Lego
The TSDC is the first jail in Ontario to be made using modular construction. The jail cells arrived on a rail car from Atlanta complete with windows, doors, wiring, and plumbing. Industrial cranes then hoisted the hollow concrete cubes, containing two cells each, high into the air and slowly lowered them into place. This type of assembly reduces costs and waste while expediting build time.
2. It’s environmentally friendly
The TSDC is also the first jail to receive LEED certification. It earned the silver status thanks to a handful of green features such as a geothermal ground-source heat-exchange system that produces 7.8 megajoules of energy each year. (For perspective, that’s enough juice to power 87 homes.) According to Infrastructure Ontario, this will reduces the jail’s natural-gas usage by at least 40 per cent. Water usage will be reduced by 20 per cent, a significant marker on the LEED checklist. And the parking lot has designated spaces for electric vehicles with charging stations.
3. From the outside, it doesn’t look much like a jail
A high fence surrounds the rear of the compound and security cameras are everywhere but, beyond that, the TSDC almost looks like a college campus. The 110 Islington South bus stops right in front of the entrance, where the name of the institution hovers above the door in plain white letters. The Visitors Centre looks spacious and airy through the spotless glass walls, and rows of grey benches are lined up in the lobby. The sliding front doors have the feel of a shopping-mall entrance. (This is a far cry from the Don, where visitors had to wait outside until security buzzed them into a small, cramped room.)
4. It aims to rehabilitate as well as incarcerate
The Don Jail lacks proper services to attend to some of its more unstable detainees, so the TSDC will offer a range of programs and services to accommodate prisoners of all stripes, including a mental-health assessment unit, a special-care unit, an infirmary, and Aboriginal health area. Ministry-approved health professionals, social workers, and psychiatrists will be on-site to determine what special needs inmates might have. The TSDC will also offers education and work-skills development programs to prepare inmates for re-entry into society, and will assist with transportation arrangements upon their discharge.
5. Inmates will be better accommodated
Obviously, prison life isn’t fun. But that doesn’t mean inmates should be denied activities. Amenities at the new jail include flat-screen TVs, bigger cell windows, a library, billiard tables, and a gym. The enhanced living quarters are part of the Ministry’s more humane and modern approach to detainment. If inmates can stay active and engaged, it should create a more civil atmosphere, something the Don Jail severely lacked.
THE DON JAIL VS. TORONTO SOUTH DETENTION CENTRE: AT A GLANCE
Don Jail: 562 (but could reportedly hold up to 650 on a given day)
TSDC: 1,650 in the detention centre, 320 in the intermittent centre
AVERAGE SIZE OF TWO-PERSON CELLS
Don Jail: 81 sq. ft.
TSDC: 99 sq. ft.
AVERAGE SIZE OF CELL WINDOWS
Don Jail: 4.3 sq. ft.
TSDC: 6.8 sq. ft.
COST OF CONSTRUCTION
Don Jail: $267,000 (in 1865 dollars)
TSDC: $594 million (as estimated in 2008 contract)
NUMBER OF PARKING SPACES
Don Jail: 0
SIZE OF FACILITY
Don Jail: 94,000 sq. ft.
TSDC: 767,500 sq. ft.
PROXIMITY TO LOCAL RESIDENTS
Don Jail: Literally across the street
TSDC: Less than 1 km to Judson Street and Ourland Avenue, the nearest residential area
DATE OF COMPLETION
Don Jail: The Old Don Jail opened 1865; the additional blocks were completed in 1958
TSDC: Intermittent facility opened in December 2011; detention centre to be opened in 2013