Tuesday, June 11, 2019

JAIL hotline takes nearly 1,500 calls in its first 6 months


In its first 6 months, volunteers at the JAIL hotline took nearly 1,500 calls from people imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, serving as a bridge to building community behind and beyond bars

The Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL), a volunteer hotline, which has been operating weekdays from 1pm to 4pm since launching on 10 December 2018, has received 1,473 calls in the first six months of its operations from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). People call the JAIL hotline seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community. The sheer volume of calls reveal the inadequacy of internal and external oversight channels that Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General officials insist are sufficient to address pressing issues at the Innes Road jail and other provincial sites of confinement.

This response troubles Aaron Doyle, a founding member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) which administers the JAIL hotline and sociology professor at Carleton University, who notes: “Ministry and OCDC officials point to the Community Advisory Board [CAB] and internal complaint processes as evidence of oversight. Meanwhile, the last CAB report available online dates back to 2016 and they’ve ignored many of their recommendations. Prisoners from different ranges tell us that some officers deny them access to complaint forms, and refuse to provide their names and badge numbers. When people call the Ministry’s Client Conflict Resolution Unit, they’re sometimes asked whether they want to pursue a complaint and told it could put them in harms way. Is this what government transparency and accountability looks like?”

Despite resistance from Ministry and OCDC officials over the past six months, JAIL hotline volunteers remain committed to working in solidarity with prisoners and their loved ones to resist state repression in ways that have made a real difference in their lives. For example, JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight notes, “Without our frequent calls to the healthcare unit at the Innes Road jail, a number of prisoners wouldn’t have been able to go to the hospital to receive urgent care for things like broken bones or get access to their prescribed opioid substitution medications. That we’ve got to exist to do the work we do ought to give everyone pause and question why we tolerate inadequate care in the community that leads to people being behind bars where they’re dehumanized further and, in some cases, exposed to a tortured existence”.

In striving towards reducing the pains of imprisonment experienced by, and improving the post-release prospects of, people held at OCDC, building relationships and working in solidarity with incarcerated persons has been central to the JAIL hotline’s operations. Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, Souheil Benslimane, states: “People behind bars experience the brutalities of imprisonment, and know first-hand the human consequences of dysfunctional Ministry policies and procedures. They also face repression and retribution for merely advocating for their human rights. Facing continued systemic violence by those officially tasked with caring and protecting them they show tremendous resiliency. We, as outside allies, have no choice but to support them in the face of normalized injustice and we’re heartened by the involvement of community care and service providers we have connected callers with to alleviate human suffering. We urge other community organizations to join us in this struggle”.

To bolster our capacity to impact laws, policies and practices at OCDC in ways that will reverberate well beyond its walls, the JAIL hotline is developing its legal strategy and capacity. JAIL hotline Legal Coordinator, Lydia Dobson, explains: “With six months of familiarizing ourselves with the issues facing people held at the Innes Road jail and their families behind us, in the coming six months and beyond we’re dedicating significant time towards the development of legal information resources and pathways to legal services so that they can better defend themselves when their human rights are being violated. The province should work with us to address issues at the Innes Road jail without resorting to more costly avenues”.

Later this month, the JAIL hotline will release its second quaterly report describing longstanding human rights issues plaguing OCDC, along with recommendations for change behind and beyond its walls. Justin Piché, founding member of CPEP and criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, expresses hope that the report will be well-received by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who “needs to direct her officials to stop deflecting and take immediate steps to limit the damage inflicted upon the roughly 70% of prisoners awaiting their day in court and 30% of prisoners serving short sentences at OCDC. Planning to open a new jail several years from now, isn’t an action plan, it’s doubling-down on the proven failure of imprisonment to line the pockets of big business while vital community supports are being eroded by the province in ways that undermine community well-being and safety. Premier Ford and his team need to be open for the business of building communities with more robust education and social services, and significantly more avenues for diversion and decarceration to prevent harm, instead of erecting bigger jails planned by the Wynne administration that’ll push people further to the margins under the pretense of care”.

For Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line

Thursday, May 30, 2019

CPEP takes part in demonstration at Queen's Park demanding care and justice for people criminalized and caged in Ontario's jails and prisons


CPEP stands in solidarity with the loved ones of prisoners who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their lives in Ontario’s provincial jails and prisons

30 May 2019 – People held in Ontario jails and prisons face the real prospect of being harmed or killed as a result of government neglect and inadequate investments in cost-effective community services that could have steered them away from incarceration. A group of families who’ve lost loved ones to preventable deaths behind bars have organized a march and a series of demonstrations outside several Ontario jails and prisons culminating in an event at Queen’s Park today demanding change. The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project stands in solidarity with these families and others across Ontario who have lost, or are at risk of losing, loved ones to death by imprisonment.

Ontario’s jails and prisons are filled with people pushed to the margins of society who often didn’t have adequate access to housing, food, education, employment, health and mental health care, and other basic services in the community prior to their incarceration. Criminological research has shown that for every $1 invested upstream towards preventing harm we can save up to $7 on policing, court, jailing and victims’ services costs incurred when law-breaking occurs. Lydia Dobson, Legal Coordinator for the Jail Accountability & Information Line which has received more than 1,500 calls from Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) prisoners since opening in December 2018, notes: “We receive many calls about the horrors of jailing – access to justice barriers, the expensive phone system that cuts people off from their families, the use of segregation, extremely poor healthcare and food, and much more. Imprisonment does great damage to people. Ontario needs to invest more in upstream services to enhance community well-being and safety to cage less and care more”.

Before the mid-1990s, approximately 30% of provincial and territorial prisoners in Canada were presumed innocent and awaiting their day in court on any given day. According to the most recent Statistics Canada data, pre-trial detention accounts for more than half of the people held in provincial and territorial jails and prisons across the country. In Ontario, approximately 69% of the province’s prisoners have yet to be tried and/or convicted. The growth in pre-trial detention has increased crowding experienced in many Ontario jails and prisons, where 2 to 3 prisoners are routinely warehoused in cells originally designed for one person. For this and other reasons (e.g. Ministry of Solicitor General and institutional policies and practices), Ontario falls far short of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Building bigger jails has been tried and has failed to bring about positive change in this province. Ontario relies on imprisonment in place of community care far too often, and can safely alleviate jail and prison crowding by investing and relying more on proven and less costly diversion measures like harm reduction, bail with reasonable conditions, bail supervision programs, and bail beds.

Roughly 30% of Ontario’s prisoners have been convicted and are serving sentences in provincial jails and prisons. Some of these people live safely amongst us in the community where they maintain employment and/or family obligations during the week and serve their intermittent sentences on the weekends behind bars. The province can safely reduce crowding in its jails and prisons by investing in and relying more on proven and less costly decarceration measures like probation, temporary absences, weekend temporary absences, halfway houses, and parole with reasonable conditions.

When social harm occurs in our neighbourhoods, those affected need information, compassion, care, accountability and justice. Rarely are such needs met when we turn to cops, courts and confinement. What’s often most appropriate are voluntary justice processes that not only give voice to affected parties and hold people accountable for their actions in non-violent ways that promote change, but also result in transformations to social structures that give rise to harm (e.g. classism, racism, sexism, heteronormativity, etc.). Ontario should become a leader in transformative justice by building community dispute resolution infrastructure to improve justice and community safety outcomes, while diminishing policing and court costs, as well as the use of imprisonment in response to social harm.

Despite the findings and recommendations from countless coroner’s inquests, task forces, and studies, both prisoners and staff continue to endure physical and psychological harm due to preventable neglect, overdoses, and violence behind bars in Ontario’s jails and prisons. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator for the Jail and Accountability & Information Line, states: "Incarcerated callers have reported several systemic issues to us, including the denial of timely access to critical healthcare such as opioid substitution treatment at OCDC, which forces patients to suffer from excruciating withdrawal symptoms. The neglect exposes already marginalized people to even greater harm”.

By making the right investments in cost-effective prevention, as well as diversion and decarceration measures, the Government of Ontario can allocate more resources towards programming opportunities, medical and mental health services, and better trained staff to diminish the pains of imprisonment and enhance community re-entry outcomes as a result. If Premier Ford and his team want to ensure that people don’t leave provincial jails and prisons in much worse condition than when they entered or in body bags, as well as avoid the costs of future litigation and lost legal battles associated with human rights abuses occurring under their watch, they need to act today.

About the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
CPEP is a group based in Ottawa comprised of current and former prisoners, their loved ones, university and college professors and students, and other concerned members of the community who have been organizing since 2012 to reduce the use of imprisonment and diminish the pains of human caging. Current initiatives include the No Ottawa Prison Expansion / #NOPE campaign that seeks to divert funds currently allocated towards a new and bigger provincial jail in Eastern Ontario towards community care and services that will cost-effectively enhance well-being and safety. The group also operates the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL hotline) that works with people held at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre to address human rights issues and connect them with resources to facilitate their safe re-entry into society following their release from custody.

Contacts for media interviews
On site at Queen’s Park:
Lydia Dobson
Legal Coordinator – Jail Accountability & Information Line

By phone:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator – Jail Accountability & Information Line