Renovations designed to address overcrowding at the London's jail are creating new concerns.

Like many of Ontario’s jails the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre is overcrowded.  And while renovations are supposed to help alleviate the problem, the head of the union representing jail guards says, for the time being, they’re making things worse.

The province planned to have the upgrades done by the end of June, but there’s still a lot to be done, leaving half the facility closed for renovations.

Three hundred inmates have been shipped out to other detention centres across the province, but the union says Elgin-Middlesex remains understaffed because correctional officers are being used to pick up and drop off inmates on a daily basis, leaving fewer guards at their post.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union local 108 President Trish Goden says “The count is lower but we also have less space we’re operating with.”

According to Goden, “Near the end of June a new deadline was given of July 31st, and then, near the end of July, I was told it won’t be finished by then and I don’t have a new deadline.”

A new entrance and control centre is complete, and video cameras are operational. But upgrades to cell doors and meal hatches haven’t been finished. 

That’s a concern for staff who say the meal hatches can be jimmied open allowing inmates to stab passersby or start fires by lighting objects and throwing them into common areas.

Goden says correctional officers are travelling up to 1,200 kilometres a day in order to bring inmates to court, often on overtime.