Millions in funding for correctional facilities and staff in the north

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Ontario government is making a massive investment in corrections efforts in the northwest of the province, and some of that money will help to bring more corrections officers to Fort Frances.

Announced on April 25, the press release reveals the province is making a $1.2-billion investment to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art corrections complex in Thunder Bay, along with $96 million for expansions projects to the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre and Kenora Jail, and finally $5 million to a new pilot project called the Northern Attraction Incentive Program that aims to attract and retain corrections staff in the North.

The $1.2-billion investment going to Thunder Bay will help build the Thunder Bay Correctional Complex, a 345-bed multi-purpose facility that will replace the existing jail and correction centre in the city. The province’s release says the new complex will also provide behavioural and mental health housing options, improved programming and health care services in units, as well as better access to natural light and outdoor spaces. EllisDon Infrastructure Justice has been awarded the contract to design, build, finance, and maintain the new complex, with work expected to start this fall and be completed by fall 2026.

The additional $96-million investment into upgrading the existing facilities in Thunder Bay and Kenora has been awarded to Bird Construction to complete. Both projects were announced in October 2020, with the awarding of the projects to the company in March 2021. The expansions will be built using what the province calls an “innovative modular construction” and will add beds to alleviate capacity pressures and create more space for effective programming such as skills and literacy development to help support safe community reintegration. The expansion done in Thunder Bay will eventually be connected to the new Correctional Complex.

Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma said the project will help to keep staff safe while providing new jobs and supporting local economies.

“Infrastructure projects like the Thunder Bay Correctional Complex are essential to our communities,” Surma said.

“This investment will ensure staff and frontline workers have access to a more modern and safe space, while also creating hundreds of new jobs and boosting the local economy. Through these types of projects, our government is keeping Ontario’s communities healthy and safe, while protecting our economy and creating a stronger Ontario for generations to come.”

Meanwhile, additional funding to establish the Northern Attraction Incentive Program will see new frontline corrections staff in facilities across the region, including Fort Frances. The program will see between $4,000 and $15,000 in funding to provide onboarding supports for new candidates working at select adult institutions in the region. New employees, along with those already employed, who transfer to select locations will also be eligible to claim up to $5,000 per year for up to three years for service at specific probation and parole offices and correctional facilities in the north. The program was scheduled to begin on April 27, 2022.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford echoed Surma by stressing the additional funding for new facilities and staff programs help provide good jobs for those already living in, or wanting to move to northern Ontario.

“This major investment will fund a modern and secure corrections complex in Thunder Bay as well as a significant expansion of the Kenora Jail to add more capacity and improved rehabilitative services,” Rickford said.

“These projects will benefit our communities not only by creating better correctional facilities but by creating hundreds of good-paying jobs in construction and frontline correctional services while boosting our local economy.”