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Hell House: Why the Don Jail is a wretched, dangerous dungeon that should have been shut down ages ago

Last year, Jeff Munro was beaten to death at the Don Jail over a bag of chips. His fate was not unusual. The Don is a wretched, dangerous dungeon that should have been shut down ages ago. Instead, it’s where we send people who haven’t yet been convicted of anything

On a Sunday last November, Christine Munro was putting the Christmas tree up early, just like she does every year, when two police officers came to her door. Christine is a dental assistant and mother of four. She lives on a quiet cul-de-sac in Paris, Ontario, with her husband, Paul, who is a mechanic, and their 15-year-old son, Devon. She also has two grown daughters, Brittany and Melanie, who visit often. When Christine saw the officers on her front porch, however, her thoughts immediately jumped to her eldest child. “I opened my door and said, ‘Please don’t tell me it’s about Jeff.’ ”

The Don Jail

(Image: Boris Spremo/CP)

It was. Five days before, the officers explained, Jeff, a diagnosed schizophrenic, had been spotted exposing himself on the street. He was arrested on Yonge near Davenport. It wasn’t Jeff’s first arrest. He was known to police, but in the past they’d usually delivered him to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. This time, they took him to the Toronto Jail—the red brick building at Broadview and Gerrard that, despite its official name, just about everyone still calls the Don. In the jail, three other prisoners—Troy Victor Campbell, Osman Sarikaya and Kevin Andre Veiro, all in their early 20s—accused Jeff of stealing a bag of chips and, in retaliation, allegedly punched and kicked him to death. When a guard found Jeff slumped in his cell, he had what the police report called “obvious signs of trauma to the face.”

  • Gina

    “Most Torontonians have become inured to the fact that their city’s primary jail is a dungeon.”

    You mean the the Don Jail is “a dark usually underground prison or vault” (taken from the Merriam Webster Dictionary)?

    Yes…the Don Jail is a prison…it may be dark…and some of the cells may be underground…in which case it could be referred to as a dungeon. Talk about stating the obvious. Who edits this crap?!?

    And yes…it’s a jail!!! It’s not Disneyland, people. What do you expect a jail to be like? This is not a 5-star hotel.

    Yes…I get that maybe Jeff was more appropriate for CAMH and eventually would have been assessed and transferred there…but you don’t admit everyone to a hospital, who is exhibiting unusual behaviour. If someone is having a psychotic event or is a danger to himself or other inmates…then you admit them. His death, while tragic is probably not an unusual occurrance in the prison system in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, North America…hell…the world. Beatings happen in prisons everywhere…that’s what happens when you put violent and unstable individuals in one place.


  • Kate

    My heart goes out to the Munro family. That must have been horrible to deal with. Good for the Munro’s for taking a stand and making this public knowledge. Thank you!

  • Ignatz

    Gina, there are 7 pages of reasons why this is a story before the very last line of the article that you parse out. Did you read them?

    It’s pretty simple: the jail doesn’t meet any of the safety, sanitary or human rights standards which our prisons do (or are supposed to). It’s therefore being replaced by one that does, many years late. This one person’s story is a way of relating how all these problems manifest themselves.

    The closing of one of Toronto’s darkest chapters seems pretty significant to me.

  • Nick

    Hey Gina,

    Quoting the dictionary’s literal definition of a dungeon, or alluding to the Don Jail as the antithesis of a ‘Disneyland’ environment greatly misses the point of this piece.

    This story represents a failure in our city to adequately deal with Toronto’s mentally ill population. The Don Jail is overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with the subtleties of criminal behaviour. The “you did something bad = you go to jail” mentality of dealing with Toronto’s criminal element is only a band-aid solution.

    If we, as a society, are to take away individual rights and freedoms as recourse for misdeeds, then we owe it to those individuals to at least treat them with some measure human dignity. To throw your hands in the air and say “hey, it’s jail. What did you expect,” is so brutally irresponsible, it’s downright laughable.

    You’re right to say that jail shouldn’t be Disneyland, but it also shouldn’t be a cramped and neglected facility that leaves prisoners devoid of their dignity. Environments like this are powder kegs for violence.

    instead of focusing on the semantics of the article, perhaps you should focus on why it is you find it so easy to sweep those in need of mental help under the rug and out of sight. Whatever helps you sleep better at night…

  • The_Flash

    Gina…why don’t you go spend a weekend at the Don and let us know your thoughts on living conditions. Although these are criminals they still have rights.

  • Melanie

    As the sister of Jeff Munro, I am still trying to grasp my head around your thoughts as posted above. I like anyone, know that jail is not a “Disneyland” but there are standards that should be met, none which have been with the Don. You have no facts, you are simply stating the obvious. I am deeply saddened by the death of my brother and now have to write a victim impact statement on how this has affected my life. I truly believe that if this was you in this position, there would be no comment as above. Until you walk a day in my family shoes, you should know that we will fight to have things changed in our correctional facilities, as I’m sure you would if the tables were turned.

  • DJ

    hey Gina It sounds like everyone is beating on you for your comment and guess what…. here comes another one!

    Why dont you take some time and read the article a little slower before posting another comment. Yes these people are prisoners and yes they are there for a reason. However, it sounds from this article as thou our local pound has better hygiene standards than this place that is housing human beings!
    I may be a little more apt to defend the Munro family as I am friends with the family but with that said Gina, I woul dlove for you to spent 12 hours in an environment where urine is freely flowing under doors. I have an older brother myself and you bet your ass I would be doing everything in my power to have his story heard!
    Have some compassion and sensitivity if you choose to repost on this article

    We love you Mel and Chris!

  • keith

    a very troubling article and my heart goes out to the Munro family. What this article leaves out is what happened to the scumbags who actually killed Mr. Munro, who they were and where they came from. As bad as the Don Jail is, and as much as it should be replaced, and as much as this kind of facility is no place for the mentally ill and addicted, “the system” didn’t kill him. Other humans did.

  • Yasmine

    Basically at the end of the day , it doesn’t matter what you do you get sent to jail. you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. So to those who feel as though the inmates are getting what they deserve, .. take a step back and think. what if that was you; your brother; your dad; uncle even… No one deserves to be treated like sacks of bones and useless. My brother-in-law is in there right now actually and for something that he did not do what so ever. the fact that the court system is so over crowded cases are being push back and back and even bail hearings are delayed. Even with evidence that states a person being innocent, people are still be held in jail to await there trial dates. jail is not a pretty thing to go through and cases where people are getting beat up in there for absolutely nothing is the “norm” at the Don. My husband was remanded there, and he got stabbed with a pen. A PEN! not one stab, but multiple stabs and do you think they did anything, no. of course not. There were no cameras supposedly so nothing was seen. we both tried to fight they system, but the fact that we dont have the financial ability to makes it hard. Its really unfortunate that this is still going on, and no one is doing anything to fix it.

    unfortunately this is the world we live in.

    My condolences to the Munro family.

  • Laurie

    We must change a system that punishes the innocent along with the guilty. Being accused of a crime does not mean one is a criminal. Let’s start by treating people who have been arrested, but not convicted, with decency and respect, and have a proper regard for their health and safety.

  • a l

    @Gina, you are a heartless person.
    Prisoners are human beings too and they will enter society at some point. They have the right to humane conditions and treatment. THe police yet again mis-treated this mentally ill man by putting him in a PRISON rather than CAMH.
    A country is defined by how it TREATS it prisoners. No prisoner should be subject to any form of torture and should have access to safe security.
    The prison industrial complex is a for-profit government business. Is this how we rehabilitate the delinquent? Often times being peope from poor, marginalized and oppresed communities?
    In solidarity with the Georgia Prison strike, the largest in US history happening RIGHT NOW but the media monopoly has chosen to WHITEOUT any coverage.

  • LOL

    Good thing you commented on it then Gina, so that we’d all know this was useless. Can anyone say dried-up curmudgeon?

  • John

    Hey,Gina,guess what I was at the Don Jail this past 2010
    and there’s a unit called tower four that deals with criminals with menal illness,I have seen
    the conditions it is a hellhold.

  • Mickael

    Hey Gina

    Before you post try reading facts. Just because they are in jail does not mean they don’t deserve security. Jeff is a victim of the prison system.

  • Steven

    @ EVERYONE except Gina. Gina said what needed to be said, and she is not heartless or any other non-sense u people were claming she was. When the cops see someone doing somthing wrong they arrest them to protect anyone they could harm. 99% of the time you would NEVER know a people is schizophrenic UNLESS u watch them for a lil bit. Im sure the cops saw this dude showing his dick off in public and quickly arrested him and brought him to the jail. When somone is scared they tend not to say anything and a person who is schizophrenic AND SCARED, usally they won’t say anything for sure so it was proply very hard for the cops to see he was mentally ill rather then a crazy person. NOW that all being said the kid died cause he took somones chips. When your locked up u have NOTHING, soo anything that is yours like a bag of chips and whatnot are your prized possesion and u don’t let anybody take that away. Now think about living all ruff for a while, and all of a sudden somone takes your snack, YOU’LL FREAK OUT and in jail theres a lot of people who think there big shit, SOOO people hurt other immates when they touch there stuff. IN CONCLUSION i can sure as hell bet most of you only “know” a person in jail and haven’t have a clue how WELL the system actually works. So open your eyes and understand Gina said nothing wrong, and im sorry to the family of Jeff but don’t push the blame on the system, it was the humans that killed jeff, NOT the system.

  • Diana

    Please don’t assume that because you read something in print that all the facts are correct. First off, if your gonna write a story about the Don Jail please use photos that show the current Don Jail and not the old unused and condemned Don Jail that hasn’t housed in inmate in over 30 years! Its not fair to mislead your readers into thinking that those pictures are accurately showing what the Don Jail is today. Yes it is over crowded and at times under staffed but unless you have been there personally yourself, which conveniently all those who condemn it haven’t, please refrain from using your imagination. This isn’t Oz folks. Watch a documentary of the prisons in South America, Asia or even the United States and you will see how in comparison the Don Jail fails to even approximate the violence and corruption rampant in these places. It may be true that the Don jail isn’t our finest stab at correcting criminal behaviour but what jail is? At least we can proudly say that correctional officers go home safe everyday and have always at the Don Jail which unfortunately is not so true of correctional officers working in jails around the world. Thats got to mean something. Be wary of a good story because sometimes thats all it is!!

  • Jon E public

    How many of you posting to this link have ever done time in the don? You’ll never appreceiate the institutional psychodrama that is unique to this one jail which is a part and “apart” from the ministrry of corrections. There is no one experience within the justice system that fully changes a human being as does this detention centre. Upon its’ closing I will thank the gods that I’ll never again have to go through A&D take an elevator ride to 2c, 3a, 4c, south side or north and deal with a staff or prison population that is indifferent to the rights and dignity of any one human being. Good riddance and thanks for nothing Don jail. You’ve changed all how’ve walked your ranges and tried to stay unaffected. Be that con or screw. I don’t really see much difference.

  • Rose

    Tobe honest system is wrong, the big fish all round and making more mess on people life,
    police, crown, even your lawyer and judge, co-operating with big fish, and people innocently go to jail and losing their life, I am one of them, more than two years, I am back and forth to court, no one helping me, I know I did mistake, but when they threaten you and your family life in other country, what do you do,you can’t talk to police, police does not give you witness protection, police doesn’t care, police get paid, to torture you, I think Canada has worst system to defending on innocent people,

  • Markymark2112

    I was in the Don jail at the time of this incident but on a different range so I did not witness the murder. There are several problems with detention centres in Ontario for example….Innocent people are put in jail all the time sure probably about 95% or more did at least something wrong but in a detention center people are awaiting their day in court and for the most part have not been convicted yet. Given that we live in a free country and someone charged with a criminal offence in this country deserves their day in court we at least owe it to those who have not been convicted of an offence and trust me some of whom have done nothing wrong to make sure that they are not beaten to death over a bag of chips while awaiting trial. Believe me there are ways to easily prevent it, instead of having the guards sit away from the range they could sit in a caged off area totally safe where he can see and hear what is going on in the range and then would be able to stop murders from happening. There is a guard for each range sitting in a booth in a glassed off area why not have him on the range hes there anyway. Secondly if the guards are on the range they could separate those who wish to gang up with their friends on other prisoners.

  • ed

    worked at the jail from 72-77.

    I was on the last hanging team in 75.Prisoner was commuted to life.He did his 25 and he is now back on tnhe street.

    Iworked for 30 years in 4 different insts.


  • Bob

    Gina heartless? Sadly too few people are “heartless” … Rather most are inane bleeding hearts, who in fact are the root of the broader victimization of many by the few.

    Reality is cold, and people would prefer to “warm themselves” by thinking acts of kindness will turn reform evil individual … Or more childessly, that it will cure the mentally unstable. Jail should be punishment, it should be a place everyone fears to end up.

    Grow up … Go ask victims of violence and parents of murdered innocents about the fate deserved by those who endanger the rest of us, better put – the fate earned by the underbelly of mankind. We paid for Karla to get a University degree in our prison system, no doubt that made her a wonderful human being that you’d trust to teach sex-ed.

    Sad, misguided bleedinghardheads.

  • T

    A lot being said here, but my thoughts are this. Prison is for punishemen, however it sounds as though some of the individuals being held at the “Don”, have not been convicted yet. This leaves a whole window of oppourtunity for a person to be found not guilty(whether they are or not). The point….if you were being held @ the Don, and died before being found innocent it would rock your family. It would also mean the this system (as messed up or fair as ppl think of it) did not work and did not have a chance to work. Mental health is a tough avenue, but until we have a place that holds a person responsible in a way that relates to their mental illness..this is what we have. I agree again that prison is meant for punishment, however if we are going to “house” hardended criminals anyway then we have to take a look at the conditions. I agree that they should be able to live in an environment were they dont’ have to deal with urine ect everywhere…but allowing a person (while they are being punished) to get a free university degree; when law abiding citizens, (in some cases) aren’t even able..doesn’t compute for me.
    The Munro family speaks about where there son should have been put when he was picked up….and with no disrespect meant. I wonder why he wasn’t already in a facility to get the help that he needed, preventing him from being in jail to begin with. Maybe we need to look at our mental health laws/act and change aspects of it. Maybe we need to look at our legal system and try to change it. At the end of the day NO ONE will be satisfied with the outcome. What is in the best interest of the people who are NOT going to jail and how do we best help those who need it to prevent overcrowded jail situations.
    I really just worry about the person that gets put into this setting and is not supposed to be there (ie wrongly accused person ect).
    Jeff did not have to die the way that he did, however there are many other factors that contributed to his death, the system being only one part of it.

  • jay

    Hey a lot of us never read these comments and don’t really care when someone goes to jail till one of our family members go throw the something my younger brother has taken to don jail for no reason and he has so many complaints about the guards and inmates there I would like some one to action about what’s happening in don jAil so we don’t see incents geting killed in there when 2 inmates fight what the fuck is does the guard do and why r the there for to take a free pay check .

  • Michelle

    I’m with Gina. What do these people expect?
    Admittedly, I’ve never been to the Don or any other jail for that matter. BECAUSE I DON’T BREAK THE LAW!!! Nobody goes to jail ‘for no reason’. Give me a break! If everybody just abided by the laws we wouldn’t even be having this discussion!

  • 2009

    My condolences go out to the family. Troy victor campbell is a moron. He used to live on my street . I hope you guys look him up in pc where he cant harm other people

  • mike

    Familys fault,wasn’t first time he’s been arrested? And cleary this guy was far from mentally stable or safe to a community,it disgusted me you would slow your unstable family member to be a threat to society.also if he had stole something from another inmate you should expect to be killed.

  • Sami Oweis

    I am shocked to hear that in a country like our country, where every one in the world is dreaming to come in live in it, we have a jail that looks like old ages jails. The police did protect the society from Jeff. But who protected Jeff from the society. Whose responsibility is this. How could a mintally ill person be in preson without some one noticing that he is ill?? Didn’t any one talk to him? Didn’t any one spend 10 minutes to know that he has a problem? Is it hard to pull his record out of the archives? Come on, it is a press of a button. We live in Canada, we do not live in a third world country. A young man died, beaten to death, you, who read my comment imagine this is your brother or son or cusin, how would you think of this incident? I think someone needs to review the system again and see where the train went off the tracks, Human being’s dignity is guaranteed by the constitution of this country. This should stay the case if we want our next generations to live in dignity.

  • stuart senior

    came to live in canada 1963 spent two short visits to both the new and old don finely spending 18 mths in guelph correctional institution had a great time fond memories would love to pay aa visit but got deported back to uk in 1966

  • dave

    hey gina i was at this shit hole 4 yrs ago not for rape, murder or beating anybody. a good jail beating is what i got thaugh at my arrival at the don for not giving them my sandwich, cause the corupt toronto cops didnt feed me while they keap me for 34 hrs no phone call, water, food or pipi time.
    u will be happy to know it is no disneyland as u say. when ur not one of the gang dudes u r watching ur back n scared every minute. this is jail(acused) not prison(convicted) so gina if i would write u what i think it would be blocked so i will say some have done nothing or not enough to go to this dangerous, underfead awfull food, stinking s_it hole.

    steven the other lightbulb more or less saying that the guy that got killed for showing his equipment deserved to go to a hell hole like the don. dosent toronto have hospitals. stop letting ur corupt cops put everybody in. what i saw n heard while i was going through the SYSTEM i would be scared to live in toronto and not because of street crime.

  • rhonda blyth

    oh please to some of you bleeding hearts out there JEFF was sick he couldn’t help himself no he didn’t deserve what those lowest of lowlifes did to him unless you have had an experience where this has happened to your family member then I’d say don’t judge my son was murdered his killer only got 3yrs in prison when it comes to Justice I say our courts and jails are corrupt and our politicians as well and Canada I have lost all my respect for this so called country we live in I AM AN ASHAMED CANADIAN BOOOOOOOOOOO~

  • Carol

    Well Michelle, you’ve forgotten the fact that innocent people can be charged!! You may not break the law but God forbid that you might ever be wrongly accused or mistaken identity, etc. And the Don is not a place for people that have “broken the law” ,,it is a HOLDING place for people who have been CHARGED with breaking the law..a big difference. My TWENTY year old son was mistakenly arrested last Sunday night when we were in Toronto for a family day weekend. He spent this past Monday night at the Don..he was released on Tuesday after all charges were dropped..But his experience at the Don has forever scarred his life..he was sexually assaulted. NO ONE deserves that even if they ARE guilty but especially not for his alleged misdemeanor crime. Your post infers that the people at the Don somehow deserve what happens to them!! You admit your ignorance,and fail to understand that not everyone in the Don has committed a crime and that even if they had, the human rights violations are unacceptable for ANY human being..