Solution to EMDC overcrowding may be as close as vacant mental health facility

By Ian McCallum, St. Thomas Times-Journal

A cost-efficient solution to overcrowding at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre may rest in a group of vacant buildings located just south of St. Thomas.

That’s the contention of Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, who asserted it’s time to think outside the box.

For the past three years, Yurek has maintained the problem at the London facility is overcrowding.

“EMDC became the destination for many inmates after the closure of various jails throughout Southwestern Ontario,” Yurek pointed out.

“The new $274 million Southwest Detention Centre in Windsor was supposed to relieve these pressures, but since becoming operational, it does not have the resources to house inmates serving intermittent (weekend only) sentences. These inmates instead end up at EMDC.”

The suicide death last week of an inmate and the firing of six EMDC employees in the wake of the November, 2013 death of inmate Adam Kargus underscore the continued lack of significant improvements at the facility.

“There’s quite a bit of pointing out to the minister and the ministry (of Community Safety and Correctional Services) about the failings of EMDC, but the previous minister Madeleine Meilleur really did nothing. Now we’re pushing on minister Yasir Naqvi to step forward and deal with the issues there.”

Naqvi, appointed to the post in March of this year has promised to tour the facility, but has not nailed down a date.

“Without any firm dates in place, it’s just more bafflegab I would call it,” Yurek advised.

When the Ontario Legislature returns Oct. 20, Yurek wants to focus attention on St. Thomas as a ready-made fix.

“The premier came out saying they’re looking at building a new facility or purchase a facility and I’m thinking the problem seems to be the people who just come in for the weekend. Why not use an asset they already own and bring them out to (the now closed) Regional Mental Health Care, St. Thomas.

The sprawling complex closed in June 2013 with the opening of the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care, located immediately to the north.

It would serve two purposes, said Yurek.

“It would take care of the overflow at the jail. People who aren’t violent offenders, they are just weekenders. And number 2, it utilizes an empty facility in St. Thomas and maybe bring some jobs.

“These are people who are at home and going to work Monday to Friday . . . and they serve their time on weekends. If they are safe enough to be in the community during the week I don’t think there are concerns having intermittants on the weekend at a facility that could house them.

Before you go out and build something new, take a look at what is already in place near St. Thomas, Yurek suggested.

“I sent a letter off to the minister last week outling a possible solution for them and I’m willing to talk to him further on it. This is a solution that could be implemented immediately. I’m sure there would be some construction work to do. Otherwise to plan and build a new facility is years down the road. That’s just kicking the ball down the field further.

“It’s worth throwing these ideas out there. We’re not in a strong fiscal climate in Ontario and this might offer a solution that would offer safety for the workers and at the same time is more cost efficient.”