Reducing drug trafficking and violence in Thorold’s Niagara Detention Centre and the Toronto East Detention Centre are behind the provincial government’s latest initiative.
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, the Province's new Deputy Solicitor General Debbie Richardson, and Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff appeared at the Thorold South jail today to announce their new plan to keep correctional officers—and inmates—safe.
Drugs and weapons are being smuggled into Ontario jails, said Jones.
“We want to keep dangerous gangs under watch, and corrections staff have to be part of the solution to guns and gangs. Keeping drugs and guns out of jails is crucial,” she added. “I’m determined to crack down from the inside.”
To that end, two new institutional security teams—one in Thorold and one in the Toronto East facility—will gather Intel from inmates in an effort to “keep our valued staff safe and protect our inmates and keep guns and gangs off the streets.”
Each IST is made up of four corrections officers, who applied to become part of the intelligence-gathering team.
OPP Detective Sgt. Grant McNair has 21 years experience as a police officer and two years with the critical investigations unit.
“I’ll be one receiving the Intel,” he said. Building a rapport with inmates will identify gang members and mitigate security threats, and “utilize Intel data analysis to stay ahead of crime before it affects our inmates. ISTs (institutional security teams) will be the boots on the ground; gather viable information” before violent incidents arise.
The Intel will “assist our justice partners,” he added, “including police officers to keep gangs and guns off the streets and curb gang activity.”
Asked if the ISTs will be posing as prisoners to gather Intel, Jones said that instead, “This is interviews and Intel-driven.”
With 12 years experience as a corrections officer, Marko Mrmak is also Union President of Local 252.
The news of additional staff is welcome to him and his coworkers, he told Thorold News.
“We are in dire need of it. With the increase in gang activity and fentanyl and opioid overdoses, it’s going to be a safety measure for staff and the inmates. It’s something we needed a long time ago.”
Asked if he thought the Intel program would work, Mrmak is hopeful.
“If they pick the right people, it definitely has potential” for success, he said. “Some inmates feel comfortable in speaking. If there is any financial benefit, they might tell you anything. A lot of these guys have grown up in here and they do get a certain level of comfort with certain faces.”
With respect to government segregation reform, Mrmak said, “We hope that the courts get on board with handing out sentencing for attacking officers. We have some who’ve been attacked and have never returned to work, and that’s not acceptable. These guys get no more time added to their sentence (for attacking officers) and because of the segregation, they are just attacking.”
Built to house 125 inmates, the Thorold jail’s current population is 260.
Asked if crime prevention would be easier if prisons weren’t filled with inmates with mental health problems, Jones told the Thorold News, “We are actively engaged and have done some highlights on diverting people before they end up in our jails.”
Corrections facilities are “very close to capacity throughout Ontario,” she stated, adding that a new facility is being built in Thunder Bay.