Thursday, May 25, 2017

Questions about 'correctional transformation' in Ontario as new bail residence for women opens today in Ottawa

by Justin Piché (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)

Just three weeks ago, Ottawa-Orléans MPP and Ontario's chief incarcerator Marie-France Lalonde announced that a new 725-bed jail will eventually replace and address crowding at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).  This announcement came just over a year after Ottawa-Centre MPP and then Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi stated that carceral expansion amounts to a public policy failure, and on the same day that Howard Sapers and his team released an interim report urging the Liberal Government of Ontario to adopt sweeping changes within its jails and prisons, including most notably recommendations to diminish the use of segregation in the province.

Later today, a ribbon cutting ceremony will take place to celebrate the opening of a new bail residence for women operated and managed by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa.  Ontario Attorney General Naqvi is scheduled to speak at the event.  No doubt the initiative will be framed by its proponents as a measure to reduce crowding at OCDC, as well as enhance community safety and better respect the rights of the accused.  While there's hope that such an initiative can live up to its promises, several questions still need to be asked.

Central among them is why is the team at Queen's Park, which includes Ottawa-area cabinet ministers, planning to build a new and bigger jail in eastern Ontario if the new bail residence is supposed to result in some prisoners warehoused in OCDC today being cared for in the community tomorrow?  

If the answer given is that a bigger jail and expanded bail residence capacity will work in tandem as part of Ontario's 'correctional transformation', is there not a risk of net-widening, not only because many of those presumed innocent will still be incarcerated at the new jail and perhaps in greater numbers because the beds will be there, but also because those awaiting their day in court who would normally be released in the community with or without conditions may end up under stricter monitoring at the new Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa facility?

Taking these questions into consideration, it's hard to imagine how the new bail residence will contribute to decarceration and serve as an alternative to a new jail, instead of an add-on, in the long-term.  However, another future is possible if the Liberal Government of Ontario and the next provincial administration abandons the plan to build a new and bigger human warehouse in Canada's capital.  If this happens, the arrival of a new bail residence may actually translate into fewer legally innocent people awaiting the completion of their judicial ordeals in an Ottawa detention centre, which would be a step in the right direction for those who acknowledge the unnecessary harms and prohibitive costs of imprisonment.  

Other Questions - New Jail versus EFry Bail Residence in Ottawa

New Ottawa Jail
New Bail Residence

Capacity (net gain)

725 beds
(+140 beds *)


Estimated Costs for Design,
Construction, Finance and Maintenance

$483.3 million to
$773.6 million **


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Prisoner Per Day

$215 ***


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Day (net increase)

(+$30,100 *)


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Year

$56,894,375 (+$10,986,500 *)


* These figures are conservative estimates as others have pegged the capacity at the Innis Road jail to be lower.  For example, the OCDC Task Force report released on 1 June 2016 noted that the facility's capacity was 496 beds, with 440 beds reserved for men and another 56 beds reserved for women.  
** These estimates compiled by the author are based on the costs associated with the design, construction, financing and maintenance of recently completed detention centres in Ontario that were bankrolled through 30-year jail mortgages / public-private-partnerships.  On the lower end, is the cost  per bed at the Toronto South Detention Centre ($1.1 billion / 1,650 beds = $666,667 per bed x 725 beds = $483.3 million).  On the higher end, is the cost per bed at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor ($336 million / 315 beds = $1.067 million per bed x 725 beds = $773.6 million). 
*** Estimates based on average daily prisoner cost in 2015/2016 in the Province of Ontario compiled by Statistics Canada.

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