Jesse Campbell says he’s not proud that he has spent time in several provincial jails but it gives him a perspective on how different detention centres are run.

His time served includes at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

“That one is by far the worst one that I’ve ever done time in. It’s violent, and to be honest, it’s more crooked. It doesn’t run efficiently.”

Campbell, incarcerated for assaults and drugs, says inmates are allowed to settle scores with one another. “I have personally never experienced no violence toward me, but I’ve certainly seen quite a bit.”

He was at EMDC the night Adam Kargus was killed by his cellmate, Anthony George in 2013. George pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no change of parole for 10 years.

While Campbell says screaming could be heard throughout the jail that night, there is often shouting and noise.

“Most of the jail screams. It’s a pretty common thing there. When you hear it you say, ‘Someone’s f-ed up.’”

The jail was on lockdown after Kargus died and Campbell says he didn’t know for a couple of days that an inmate was killed.

He says Kargus was quiet and kept to himself so he was surprised when he learned he was the victim.

“I was shocked. He wasn’t confrontational at all from what I seen of him,” Campbell says.

“I knew how short his time was. That was one of the saddest things. You come here supposed to be making a better life for yourself, not being killed.”

He says there are some inmates who are violent and brag about it.

“They go to jail and they live that life. And then you have kids like Adam Kargus who are quiet and they end up on the same range. At least in other places I’ve been in, for the most part they’ll try to separate you accordingly.”

He says drugs and weapons were common inside the jail and he remembers inmates getting cement from the yard to use as a weapon.

Campbell last served time on weekends at the end of 2017.

He says with five kids and another one on the way, he now has a full-time job and has left his former life behind.

“Just being a responsible adult is my goal. If I end up in EMDC for a weekend over something stupid, my five kids could lose their dad.”

Another former inmate, who asked that his name not be used, says you need to fight to survive at EMDC.

He says if you don’t fight back when another inmate is picking on you, you will continue to be harassed.

“The weaker kids get picked on,” he says.

The problem with EMDC, he says, is that there doesn’t appear to be any accountability for inmates or guards.

His solution – level it and start again.

London lawyer Kevin Egan also believes wholesale changes need to take place.

"Really what they need to do is go through with a big broom and change everything," he says. 

He called the problems at EMDC systemic. "There's a malaise, a union-management struggle that I think contributes to the lack of safety at EMDC."

Egan, who has filed a class-action lawsuit against the province on behalf of former inmates over conditions at the jail, wants to remind people that someone they know could end up inside.

"It could be your kid; it could be your neighbour. You don't have to do that much to end up in there and you could end up permanently injured or dead as a result."

A female inmate says there is also violence in the women's area of EMDC.

"One of the main differences between the men's and women's side is that the women's side has dormitories in addition to the cells. The ranges are not well supervised and there's a lot of violence and drug abuse," she says.

"When a new woman comes on the range, she is expected to have a package (of drugs) on her. I have seen women beaten up and held down on the floor while the "heavy" on the range searches her private parts for a concealed package."

She has experienced trauma there, particularly aftershe saw one woman beaten almost to the point of death. "The entire experience was extremely traumatizing," she says.

CTV News sent several emails to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, beginning at the end of January, asking for an interview with Minister Sylvia Jones.

After providing a list of questions, the minister’s office never responded to follow-up emails.

CTV News was also told by a ministry spokesperson that EMDC superintendent David Wilson is not avaible for interviews.

The ministry did provide a statement after a list of questions was sent.

"Those who work in correctional facilities have a challenging job. All correctional officers receive comprehensive training to do their jobs effectively. Correctional facilities across Ontario manage risks of inmate violence on a daily basis.

"The ministry has policies and procedures in place for dealing with violence and other inmate disturbances which include critical components such as active management and staff awareness. There is also a robust internal inmate misconduct policy to manage inmates who engage in violent behaviour towards staff. Staff can never fully predict what any given day will bring, and that is why correctional officers are trained to handle a variety of different situations.

"If criminal activity is suspected or alleged, or if staff or inmates are assaulted or threatened, the police are contacted. Police are responsible for conducting investigations and making decisions about the laying of criminal charges."