Toronto East Detention Centre
The Toronto East Detention Centre, located in Scarborough, is one of several detention facilities in the Greater Toronto Area. It serves primarily as a remand facility, housing inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. The detention centre has faced longstanding issues with overcrowding and poor conditions.
History and background
The Toronto East Detention Centre opened in 1983 as the Metro East Detention Centre. For most of its history, it has dealt with capacity pressures and lagging infrastructure. Various expansion projects over the past three decades have increased overall capacity. Management and oversight of the centre has also changed over time.
Location and layout
Geographically, the Toronto East Detention Centre is located at 55 Civic Road in the Golden Mile neighbourhood of Scarborough. The multi-building complex contains cell blocks, common areas, health facilities, visitor areas, and administrative offices. Different security levels determine inmate access to various sectors. The site also features outdoor yard spaces.
Capacity and population
The Toronto East Detention Centre was originally built to hold about 550 inmates. Various expansion projects have increased the official capacity to 1,650 over the years. However, the centre has consistently held more inmates than intended capacity. Reports of extreme overcrowding over 150% capacity have highlighted infrastructure deficiencies. On average, the detention centre houses 1,800-2,000 inmates daily. Over 60% are typically awaiting trial and held as remanded inmates.
Security and features
As a remand facility primarily holding inmates awaiting trial or sentencing, the Toronto East Detention Centre houses inmates of various security levels determined through classification. Features catering to security and control include perimeter fencing, surveillance systems, cell blocks with lockdowns, segregation areas, riot gear, and correctional emergency response teams. The centre also contains health facilities, interview rooms, inmate programs, religious services, and more.
Programs and services
Inmates at the Toronto East Detention Centre have access to various institutional programs during their incarceration, including skills building, counseling services, mental healthcare, addiction support groups, education classes, vocational training, parenting courses, spiritual guidance, and cultural activities. Access and availability of programming is often limited. Critics argue more program funding could lower recidivism rates post-release.
Overcrowding and conditions
With consistently high inmate populations beyond intended capacity, overcrowding is a major issue facing the Toronto East Detention Centre. Cramped quarters in shared cells risk increased tension and violence between inmates. Limited access to staff, resources, programs, recreation time, shower facilities, telephones, and healthcare results from strained infrastructure. These conditions exacerbate physical and mental health pressures on inmates and staff.
Treatment of inmates
Various reports, inquiries, and watchdog groups have called into question the treatment of those incarcerated at the Toronto East Detention Centre. Excessive lockdown time, violence (inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate), lack of supervision, and use of force have created dangerous environments. Vulnerable incarcerated groups report problems accessing necessities, harassment, discrimination, and restricted privileges. Rehabilitation takes a backseat to restrictive, punitive policies.
Oversight and accountability
Management and oversight structures impacting the Toronto East Detention Centre have frequently been critiqued. Leadership turnover, policy gaps, limited transparency, and lack of external accountability characterize the history of the facility’s oversight. Watchdogs cite failures addressing long-term issues. Family advocacy groups also protest lack of internal accountability for specific violent incidents against those incarcerated. Overall, critics argue accountability measures to protect human rights are lacking.
The Ontario government recently announced a major expansion project for the Toronto East Detention Centre facility. This planned construction aims to add at least 1,000 new inmate spaces to finally ease capacity pressures. However, critics argue expanded incarceration infrastructure distracts from broader justice reforms. Community advocates also fear added social costs to the neighbourhood without proper resources and supports upon release. But authorities still consider enlargement inevitable given projection models.
Changes in operations
Alongside physical expansion plans, authorities plan operational changes at the Toronto East Detention Centre to address long-term issues. Enhancing correctional staff training, strengthening accountability procedures, updating policies around vulnerable populations, bolstering pre-release programs, and conducting mandatory external reviews represent some areas of focus moving forward. Facility leadership hopes updated operating procedures will lead to progress resolving past problems.
Upgrades to facilities
In addition to adding general inmate capacity through facility expansions, officials also moved to upgrade infrastructure and amenities to the meet more modern standards. Recently completed and ongoing upgrades span multiple areas including: increased natural lighting, necessary HVAC repairs, adding program spaces, updating health facilities, enhancing safety features, expanding kitchens and laundries, more versatile visitor spaces, upgraded technology, sustainable building materials, revitalized common areas and cells, and focusing design on rehabilitation over punishment.
The Toronto East Detention Centre affects the local economy in multiple ways. The operations and planned expansion provide an influx of construction and contracting jobs during development periods which strains housing availability. Hundreds of full-time jobs managing and servicing the centre also funnel wages into the community. However, community members argue funds are better spent on rehabilitation programs and resources rather than ballooning correction infrastructure budgets. Overall though, the centre largely supports immediate economic growth.
Socially, the Toronto East Detention Centre also impacts the neighbouring communities significantly. Critics argue that over-incarceration tears families apart and exacerbates community challenges rooted in poverty, mental health issues, addiction, and trauma. However, others also point out that detention centres play a necessary role keeping communities safe by housing higher risk offenders. Moving forward, neighbourhood advocacy groups demand more community supports to ease social problems exacerbated by mass incarceration locally.
Proposed changes and reforms
Following years of criticism over conditions, accountability, and focusing too narrowly on punishment over rehabilitation, various stakeholder groups put forth proposed reforms for the Toronto East Detention Centre. Suggestions range from new oversight models, expanded programming, infrastructure upgrades, sentencing changes to limit remand populations, increased staffing, independent inquiries, more reintegration supports, and pushing certain non-violent offenders into alternative community supervision programs rather than incarceration.
Alternatives to incarceration
As debates around reforming the Toronto East Detention Centre continue, advocates also point to alternatives to incarceration used elsewhere as methods for correcting systemic issues without expanding detention facilities. Potential alternatives that shift focus toward rehabilitation in community include: electronic monitoring, mandatory counseling, community service, increased bail leniency, fines, probation, healing lodges, halfway houses, drug courts focusing on treatment, and various Indigenous-led initiatives.
Final thoughts and summary
For decades, the Toronto East Detention Centre suffered from chronic issues ranging from overcrowding risks to poor accountability and oversight structures. As Ontario moves forward with ambitious expansion plans hoping to resolve capacity issues, broader pressure for reform focuses on improving conditions, treatment, programs, and operations at this key Scarborough correctional facility. The future direction balances vital infrastructure upgrades, rehabilitation over punishment, and exploring alternative community options.
Q: When did the Toronto East Detention Centre open originally?
A: The Toronto East Detention Centre opened in 1983 as the Metro East Detention Centre.
Q: What is the current capacity the facility was designed for?
A: The current intended capacity after various expansions is around 1,650 inmates.
Q: What percentage of inmates are remand versus sentenced?
A: Approximately 60% or more of the current inmate population is remand, meaning awaiting trial or sentencing.
Q: What are some of the major issues or controversies around the facility?
A: Key issues include chronic overcrowding beyond capacity, poor conditions, lack of accountability and oversight, focus on punitive policies over rehabilitation, and treatment of vulnerable inmate populations.
Q: What are alternatives to incarceration that could alleviate issues with the facility?
A: Potential alternatives shifting focus to rehabilitation outside prisons include electronic monitoring, counseling, community service, bail reform, probation, Indigenous healing lodges, halfway houses, and drug courts.