10/03/2013 17:33 EDT | Updated 12/03/2013 05:12 EST

New Toronto jail boasts mental health, aboriginal programs

A new detention centre opening in Toronto will become the largest correctional facility in Ontario, and will feature programs dealing with mental health issues and spaces for aboriginal ceremonies.

The Toronto South Detention Centre, expected to open in the next few weeks, will be able to accommodate up to 1,650 inmates, including people awaiting trial and those sentenced to provincial terms of under two years.

The centre is opening as critics raise the alarm about overcrowding in Ontario jails.

The maximum security institution was built to replace the closing Toronto West Detention Centre and the Toronto Jail, known as the Don Jail.

The vast, state-of-the-art facility will have more than 50 program rooms, including classrooms, a multi-faith worship room that includes a foot bath for Muslim offenders to cleanse before their prayers and an aboriginal program room.

There is also a special unit that can handle the most high-risk offenders, a mental-health assessment unit and medical beds.

"We are committed to be an institution that focuses on program delivery and addressing the needs of inmates with mental-health issues,” said the centre’s director, Rose Buhagiar.

The detention centre is offering public tours this weekend in hopes of dispelling myths about jails portrayed on TV and in movies. Half-hour long tours are available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but photography won't be allowed.