New T.O. jail, with sweat lodge, eco-friendly features, opening soon
Toronto's skyline is pictured. (Chris Kitching/CP24)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 3, 2013 2:19PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 3, 2013 3:41PM EDT
TORONTO -- A new detention centre will soon become the largest correctional facility in Ontario and will boast several eco-friendly measures and unique features such as space for aboriginal smudging ceremonies.
The Toronto South Detention Centre has space for up to 1,650 inmates -- about 500 more than the capacity of the facilities it's replacing, the Toronto West Detention Centre and the Toronto Jail, known as the Don Jail.
The new, state-of-the-art facility, which will hold people awaiting trial and those sentenced to provincial terms of under two years, is expected to open in the next few weeks.
The vast institution has 43 different types of units, including a special handling unit that can handle the most high-risk offenders, a mental-health assessment unit and medical beds.
Each of the inmate living units has -- in addition to bunks, toilets, showers, a television and telephones for collect calls -- video visit booths, to chat with their visitors using a system similar to Skype.
The units each also have a yard, which is a small room, usually with a basketball net, inside the facility with the ceiling open to fresh air.
There is a gymnasium, which is a full-sized basketball court, that is used only by inmates on direct supervision units who have been granted good behaviour privileges.
The detention centre will have more than 50 program rooms, said its director, Rose Buhagiar, as the facility opened its doors to members of the media Thursday.
"We are committed to be an institution that focuses on program delivery and addressing the needs of inmates with mental-health issues," she said.
The program rooms include classrooms, a multi-faith worship room that includes a foot bath for Muslim offenders to cleanse before their prayers and an aboriginal program room.
That room has circular lighting on the ceiling and a circular design on the floor for ceremonies. It also is specially ventilated for smudging ceremonies, which involve burning sweetgrass, sage or cedar.
"We really want to support the smudging ceremonies," Buhagiar said. "We recognize the importance that they offer to our aboriginal offenders."
A sweat lodge is also expected to be built soon on the grounds of the detention centre.
The building is also designed with the environment in mind, she said. It's designed in the hopes of achieving a silver LEED certification.
Rain water is being retained and used to irrigate the grounds and low-flow faucets help reduce water consumption, Buhagiar said.
They're also trying to conserve energy, through measures such as having motion-activated lights in some areas of the facility and a white roof helps regulate temperatures inside, Buhagiar said.
Staff will be encouraged to cycle or take public transit to work, and for any employees with electric cars, there are docking stations, she said.
The detention centre is offering half-hour public tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but photography won't be allowed.