Renovations planned for jail

Vincent Ball

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

The provincial government is renovating a section of the now-closed Brantford Jail to accommodate inmates being brought to the city for court appearances.
Plans call for 10 holding cells as well as a control room for Brantford police and a lawyer-inmate consultation area to be opened at the jail, which officially closed its doors just before Christmas.
The province is also installing two additional segregation doors in the holding cell area at the Ontario Court of Justice at 44 Queen St.
The $240,000 project was initiated in February and design and planning work is currently underway.
Details of the plans were included in a letter sent to Mayor Chris Friel; Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; Dave Levac, Brant MPP and Speaker of the Legislature; by Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie-France Lalonde.
“This is a continuation of the discussion to address concerns and help with transition during the decommissioning of the jail,” Levac said of the initiative.
The costs are being covered by the provincial government and is the result of consultations involving the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services,  city officials and others involved in local justice, Levac added.
Construction of new holding cells at the jail addresses a problem raised by Friel prior to the closing of the jail last year.
Built in 1852, the jail at Market and Nelson streets was among the oldest in the province. Although it had been slated for closure for several years it wasn’t until last year that the government moved to finally shutter the building.
After it closed, inmates were transferred to other correctional facilities in the province, including Maplehurst in Milton. As part of the plan, the OPP transports inmates due to appear in court in Brantford from the other facilities.
The plan, however, raised the ire of Friel who wanted to know where prisoners would be held prior to their court appearances. Although there are holding cells at the provincial courthouse on Queen Street and two others at the Superior Court of Justice building on Wellington Street, more were needed to accommodate inmates coming to the city.
Friel criticized the provincial government for a lack of planning and subsequently called for the formation of a working group to press the provincial government for a new  consolidated court house.
Although the creation of additional holding cells at the Brantford jail addresses the problems caused by the jail closing, Friel still has concerns.
“I think we see this as a short-term solution and I’m worried the province will see it as a permanent solution,” Friel said. “We’re the only community of our size in Ontario with a secondary holding facility.
“We’ve pressed the ministers for a commitment but we haven’t yet been able to get a commitment.”
Although the province will cover the cost of the renovation work, it’s still unclear who will pay for additional Brantford police resources to manage two holding facilities, Friel said.
A new courthouse should be a provincial election issue that gets raised with candidates as the campaign to form the next Ontario government unfolds, Friel said.
The letter from both ministers does speak to the question of a new courthouse for Brantford but is non-committal.
“We are aware of the recommendations from the Brantford Courthouse Working Group, including the call for a consolidated court facility for Brantford,” the letter states. “Our decision for courthouse capital investments are guided by long-term planning and the need to ensure that courthouses with the greatest needs are given priority.”