Jail closure announcement met with skepticism

Officials have announced the aging Don Jail will close its doors this fall, but Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says she’ll believe it when she sees it.

“They’ve been talking about this closure for years now,” says Gadhia. “It’s at least a decade overdue. It’s been around since the late 1800s and at that time it may have been considered a structure that was capable of housing inmates, but they’ve done absolutely nothing to maintain the building.”

The jail’s oldest section, featuring a limestone image of Father Time above its entrance, has already been changed into administrative offices for the new Bridgepoint hospital next door, which begins treating patients this weekend, the National Post reports.

The rest of the Don, attached to the east end of the original building, will be decommissioned and torn down once the province opens its replacement, the Toronto South Detention Centre in Etobicoke, this fall, the report continues.

Gadhia, who has had many clients at the Don over the 17 years she’s been practising, says the building’s conditions are deplorable, noting an overpowering smell of urine and fecal matter is present “the moment you walk into the building.”

While she’s skeptical plans to close the jail will stick, Gadhia is encouraged by the news.

“It’s been constantly on the lips of the Attorney General and the government for the last number of years, so until I see it, I can’t believe it,” she says. “I think many of my clients would be thrilled to get out of there and into some place that’s at least humane.”

The Don’s high volume of inmate traffic adds to the building’s problems, says Gadhia.

“It’s one thing to say it’s a short stay at a short-term detention facility, which is what it was meant to be, but in fact individuals are being housed there for upwards of a year,” she says, noting the purpose of a facility like the Don is to hold people before they go to trial.

“Recently they had reports of a mould infestation and individuals say they are malnourished in that environment. I hear from my clients that the food is subpar, the toilets back up constantly and the water conditions are poor.”

Unfortunately, Gadhia says, it’s not uncommon for the government to place criminal law matters on the backburner.

“It’s no surprise to me they’ve treated individuals charged in the manner they have for so long and gotten away with it,” she says. “It’s embarrassing that this is how we treat individuals not yet convicted of a criminal offence.”

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