Friday, October 04, 2013

I went to jail today...

This afternoon I went to jail. It was a fascinating trip — but one I’d obviously rather not repeat.

The occasion was the public opening of the massive, newly constructed Toronto South Detention Centre.

Toronto South Detention Centre main entrance

Slated to begin accepting inmates later this fall, the $594m facility can house 1,650 offenders, plus another 320 in the connected Toronto Intermittent Centre (by comparison, the Don Jail’s capacity was 562, though counts often exceeded that).

A model aerial view shows the sheer scope of the complex.
Image courtesy EllisDon 

The maximum-security jail features state-of-the-art construction, even boasting a LEEDS Silver certification. Its modern design (by Zeidler Partnership Architects) has been specifically implemented to control and minimize the day-to-day movement of offenders within different areas of the building.

Warning sign at the TDSC
As a (mostly) law abiding citizen who values his liberty and personal privacy, let me tell you that I would not want to involuntarily spend any time in this building. Touring the jail firsthand will make you reflect on how we treat prisoners, as well as contemplate the tension between rehabilitation and punishment — regardless of how you feel about the efficacy of the system.

The site of the jail was formerly occupied by the Mimico Correctional Centre; it has a correctional history dating back at least 100 years.

Imagine spending two whole years confined to this block.
Photo by Tyler Anderson / National Post. View original here.

Public tours are continuing Saturday and Sunday this weekend; I recommend it if you’re at all interested in Ontario’s correctional infrastructure and approach. It was particularly edifying, from the perspective that every aspect of the building reflected a practical ‘designed’ purpose.

“How do you build and scale a safe living space where you can control and supervise every waking moment of 1,650 men?”

Observationally I found that people’s inclinations about jail were reinforced by the tour (i.e. if you think humane treatment and a focus on rehabilitation is important, you still thought that at the end; if you think prisons are where criminals should rot away suffering for their misdeeds, ditto).

More reading & photos
Although the general public isn’t allowed to take in any cameras, the media was permitted to photograph the interior of parts of the building. You can see more of the jail at these links: