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Canada: Riot at MTC facility at same time guards vote for a union.
Pat Conroy - Special to the Star
Sep. 20, 01:45 EDT

100 riot in bid to escape superjail. OPP surround Penetanguishene as inmates use battering ram

BARRIE More than 100 inmates used a battering ram to attempt an escape from the Penetanguishene superjail after a riot broke out early today. Ontario Provincial Police were called in from surrounding detachments to block the prisoners' escape from the Central North Correctional Centre.

The inmates broke through several areas of security and were attempting to break down a fire door in their final bid for freedom. The OPP said the inmates were also armed with makeshift weapons and crude gas masks as they attempted to storm the facility located about 50 kilometres north of Barrie.

"We've got a major incident on the go at the Penetanguishene jail," said a senior OPP officer at the general headquarters in Orillia. "We're trying to muster as many forces as we can at this point but I'm not sure how many officers are involved."

OPP police dispatchers summoned all available officers in the Barrie, Midland and Orillia areas to the scene at the outskirts of a residential area in the Georgian Bay community.

Heavily armed police, including the tactical rescue unit and the canine unit, set up positions around the jail.

OPP officers expressed concerns the fence surrounding the facility is not electrified. The prison has 1,184 beds, including 32 for women.

At maximum capacity, there are about 1,000 prisoners in a maximum-security setting serving sentences of up to two years less a day. There are also about 200 people awaiting trial, trial dates or bail dates.

The privately run Penetanguishene facility, which opened last year, is one of three superjails planned for the province. The other two are in Maplehurst and Lindsay. They are part of an over-all plan to cut correctional services costs of about $500 million a year. The jails are replacing some 20 older facilities across the province.

In March, a corrections ministry source said a large jail possibly a superjail on Toronto's waterfront was an option being considered by Corrections Minister Rob Sampson to relieve chronic overcrowding in Toronto's jails. The source said Sampson had talked about the possibility of closing Toronto's detention centres, which are bursting at the seams, and building one large jail.

Sampson admitted overcrowding is a serious issue in Greater Toronto, and it must be addressed sooner rather than later. In 2000, a confidential provincial cabinet document said the Ontario government planned to use the superjail as a model for more privately run jails. The document said there should be a review of the ``privatized model correctional facility in Penetanguishene after five years to determine (the) extent to which expansion of this type of service will continue.''

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