Case Study: Toronto South Detention Centre

Independent Review of Ontario Corrections

December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4868-2964-4

Independent Review of Ontario Corrections team

Core members
  • Howard Sapers — Independent Advisor
  • Yoko Murphy — Corrections Advisor
  • Mitchell Croteau Walker — Corrections Advisor
  • Andrea Monteiro — Review Team Manager
  • Jean-Philippe Crete — Corrections Advisor
  • Kim St-Cyr — Administrative Assistant


Public safety work can be stressful. Being in conflict with the law can be stressful. Ignoring these obvious realities when we hire, train, and manage corrections staff – and build and operate our prisons and jails – bring serious consequences including violence.

There is growing recognition of the dimensions of workplace occupational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, amongst correctional workers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and others who are on the front lines of public safety. There is also renewed focus on understanding how trauma may contribute to crime cycles, victimization, and conflict with the law. Unfortunately, correctional services have been slow to incorporate trauma-informed practices to support both staff and clients. We know that negative experiences of staff have a direct impact on how those imprisoned will experience their custody and that, in turn, unfair or abusive treatment can contribute to assaultive and violent inmate behaviour.

The Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) was launched earlier this year. Housed at the University of Regina, CIPSRT is a “Canadian hub for strategic public safety wellness research and analysis, knowledge translation and mobilization, working with public safety leaders and academics from across Canada to develop and deploy solutions that meet the current and future needs of Canadian Public Safety Personnel”.footnote 1 According to a CIPSRT research summary, people in public safety jobs may be more likely to develop mental health concerns because of how often they may experience extreme stressors such as exposure to death, massive injuries, and the suffering of others.footnote 2

CIPSRT research helps us better understand the impact of public safety work on individuals and better respond to their needs. CIPSRT also hosts online tools, such as the Anonymous Self-Assessment Mental Health Screening Toolfootnote 3 that can provide early warning to staff about anxiety, depression, disrupted social functioning, risky alcohol use, and an array of other mental health concerns. Both the research findings and impact that knowledge will have on supporting the life time health of staff will also directly affect the wellbeing of men and women held in custody.

There are other supports and practices either emerging or already in place that could apply to corrections or provide a model for intervention. The Mental Health Commission of Canada provides Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training:

MHFA is like regular first aid but rather than treating a physical injury, you treat a person who may be experiencing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. When you can recognize the signs of mental problems or mental crisis, you can administer mental health first aid until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis is resolved.footnote 4

In Ottawa, a new research-driven mental health clinic for first responders was announced in November 2018.footnote 5 The clinic is a pilot project federally funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program. While the pilot is not designed to support correctional officers, findings may provide guidance to correctional services as new clinical resources are developed.

Identifying and fixing unhealthy and unsafe work practices and environments is an Employer obligation. Meeting this obligation in corrections also contributes to the dual aims of any modern correctional service: safe and lawful custody and timely and appropriate return to the community. Ignoring this obligation not only undermines both, but adds significant risks and costs. The best chances of successful rehabilitation and reintegration flow from ensuring that correctional staff are well prepared to do their jobs in appropriate workplaces and men and women in custody are legally and fairly treated as they access necessary health services and correctional programs. I believe the recommendations made in this report based upon research into evidence-based practices, staff feedback, and a deep dive into the operations of the Toronto South Detention Centre will assist Ontario in operating safer institutions that will provide better correctional outcomes.