Tuesday, January 15, 2019

First monthly report of the JAIL hotline released


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JAIL hotline releases first monthly report based on 148 calls about 
conditions of confinement at OCDC - among myriad of issues plaguing the jail, 
health care cited by prisoners as primary concern

15 January 2019 – A new volunteer hotline received 148 phone calls in the last month, the vast majority of which were from current prisoners, revealing a myriad of on-going issues at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). Approximately a quarter of the calls received from prisoners at the Innes Road jail cited health care as their primary concern.

Poor conditions of confinement and human rights violations have been commonplace at OCDC for decades, receiving widespread condemnation in media coverage, inquests into preventable jail deaths, reports by the Ontario Ombudsperson and most recently by the now disbanded Independent Review Team lead by Howard Sapers. Despite some recent reforms, including the 2014 creation of the Community Advisory Board, the implementation of the 2016 OCDC Task Force, and the 2018 passage of the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act which has not been proclaimed into force by the new provincial government, there remain profound problems at the Innes Road jail. It’s in this context that the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project launched the JAIL / Jail Accountability and Information Line on 10 December 2018. JAIL hotline volunteers work with prisoners and their loved ones to improve conditions of confinement at OCDC, as well as connect people to community care and service providers to help facilitate their safe re-entry into their communities upon release.

As is detailed in the JAIL hotline’s first monthly report, in several calls to the line, prisoners reported being assessed by medical and mental health professionals through their cell doors, a practice which came to light during last month’s inquest into the preventable death of Cleve “Cas” Geddes – who was living with schizophrenia and died by suicide in 2017 after being sent to OCDC instead of the Royal Ottawa Hospital for a judge-ordered psychological assessment. During the inquest, a jail psychologist who ‘assessed’ Cas through a segregation cell door noted this was “not a very therapeutic environment for an assessment”, while a deputy superintendent at OCDC noted the practice was being curbed through the availability of an interview room. Yet, many prisoners have reported that this dehumanizing and dangerous practice that inhibits care continues. One caller noted, “Half the time here you don’t get to go speak to the doctor privately... If you have personal issues the whole range can hear everything”. Another caller remarked, “You don’t feel safe about talking about mental health or other sensitive issues”. When a prisoner’s health conditions are out in the open, they can be perceived to be vulnerable, and become targets for violence and harassment. Space exists at OCDC for private health assessments and it ought to be used to the degree possible.

Other health matters reported to the JAIL hotline included the cutting-off or modification of the administration of prescriptions, which prevents OCDC prisoners from being able to follow their treatment regimen as directed by medical and/or mental health professionals. For instance, some callers reported that they’ve asked several times for their prescribed monthly shots to treat schizophrenia when they were in crisis, only to see their requests fall on deaf ears. Such inaction can lead prisoners to harm themselves or others, sometimes with lethal consequences. This must end.

As discussed in the JAIL hotline’s first monthly report, other issues reported by prisoners include: poor air quality; lack of cleanliness in some cells; inadequate winter gear to access yard; the inability of prisoners to call the cell phones of their loved ones and the above-market, high costs of collect calls; the predatory prices at canteen for basic necessities to maintain personal hygiene and food to supplement poor quality meals provided by the jail, and lower canteen account limits put in place last fall that require more frequent deposits by prisoners’ loved ones on-site; and lockdowns associated with incarcerating weekend prisoners at OCDC or transferring them to other facilities where they reported being “denied our basic rights”.

JAIL hotline coordinator Sarah Speight notes, “we’ve attempted to resolve the matters reported to us through various means, including phone calls and emails to the OCDC administration and Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services officials. While issues are occasionally resolved, officials suggest that adequate oversight mechanisms exist to address prisoner complaints. Given the volume and nature of the calls we’ve received to date, we disagree, and we’ll continue to work with prisoners and their loved ones to improve jail conditions”. Souheil Benslimane – who’s also a JAIL hotline coordinator – adds, “the official response to the issues we’ve raised with prisoners and their loved ones has been inadequate. This being the case, we’re going to release monthly reports and raise public awareness in other ways to hold OCDC, the Ministry, the provincial government, and private sector jail service providers to account for what’s taking place at the Innes Road jail in order to affect change. We don’t have a choice – the well-being of people, inside and outside jail walls, is at stake”.

To arrange for a media interview with report authors contact:
Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)
613-793-1093 / justin.piche@uottawa.ca 

Attachments:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Recommendations to address longstanding issues at OCDC

by the Innes Road Jail Prisoners' Collective

Preface from the JAIL / Jail Accountability and Information Line


While sites of confinement differ across time and space, there are certain “carceral universals” (Gaucher, 2007) that characterize life behind bars. All prisoners are subject – albeit unevenly – to coercive power and dehumanization, violence and brutality, poor medical and mental health ‘care’, the forcible separation from, and difficulties of remaining connected to, their loved ones and communities, and increasingly costly privatized services (e.g. telephone calls, canteen, etc.), whether they are held in the provincial jail at Burnside in Nova Scotia, the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) in Ontario, the federal ‘Healing Lodge’ in Saskatchewan or elsewhere across Canada and the world. 

Below, is a list of reasonable and realistic requests from a collective of 48 prisoners at OCDC. It was sent to the JAIL / Jail Accountability and Information Line with the expectation that it would be shared with the public in the hopes of affecting change that will limit the damage of the incarceration regime they endure on a daily basis, which will also benefit staff and the broader community to which they will eventually return.

Concerns and Requests from the Innes Road Jail Prisoners' Collective

The issues below have been discussed with 48 of us here and we hope you can help us, as they impact our daily lives and the NEW policies that came into effect in October are making our already strenuous lives even harder. As a groupwe discussed a few issues we are seeking support in resolving. We hope that the public becomes aware of the hardships we face. There are nine main issues we wish to focus on here. We are sure the public will be shocked, particularly when knowing that we have yet to be convicted.We are in OCDC on remand waiting for due process and justice to be served.

1) Our Medical Privacy Is Not Respected

Medical privacy is a huge problem at OCDC. The doctor comes on the living units between 5:30am and 7:00am. He talks to us through the hatch, which is a rectangular slot in the metal door. Everyone can hear about the personal medical matters of others. The doctor’s voice is so loud that people are woken-up by him. Alsothe door of the room medical staff sometime use to assess us is wide-open. Anyone on the other side of it can hear the conversation between the doctor and the patientWe demand that the doctor and the medical staff respects our privacy and dignity.

2) Health Care in OCDC is Dysfunctional

Seeing the doctor takes long periods of timeblood work takes months and the dentist just pulls our teeth out and never repairs them. We would like the delays to improve and to be able to get teeth cleaning yearly. This is because it makes absolutely no sense to make prisoners unhealthy given the preventable costs to all that are incurred while we are imprisoned and down the road when we return to our communities.

3) The Canteen (Commissary) Account Limit 
Causes Us and Our Families Many Problems

Since October, with the new policy being enacted, we saw a canteen account limit of $180 being imposed on us. Now, we have to make sure visitors comevery two weeks to deposit funds for us to be able to get canteen. This new administrative practice is hard on loved ones and puts a lot of stress on them and us. For this reasonthe limit should be increased to at least $500.

4) The Visitation Policy is Unsuitable and Isolating

The number of people allowed to visit an incarcerated person at OCDC is 6 visitors. Besides, we can only have a maximum of 8 visits a month. We would like to be able to put 12 people on our list as we can only change our visitor list on the first week of each month. As part of the new October policy, ONLY people on our visitors’ list can deposit money into our accounts. This is a huge problemit impacts our mental and physical health, our safe reintegration into societyas well as hampers the support we can receive from our familiesThis is because the people who send us money are not necessarily the ones who visit us. This policy isolates us from meaningful contact with our families and loved ones. We would like to see this condition removed and for anyone can deposit/send us money to be able to do so.

5) Canteen Items Are Extremely Expensive

Some canteen items are at least double the price as similar ones outside. We would like the cost to go down and our $60 weekly spending limit to go up to $80 dollars weekly to purchase goods to supplement the poor hygiene products and meals given to us by the jail in order to maintain our health. Again, it makes absolutely no sense to make prisoners unhealthy, because when we come-out with life-altering health issues it not only impacts us and our loved ones, but also all of us who pay taxes for things like health care.

6) Canteen Items Are Unsuitable For Our Needs

The canteen does not offer people with sensitive skin adequate products. We would like sensitive skin soap, lotion and deodorant. Some of us spend years at OCDC before judgements are rendered, including acquittals. We would like that the commissary to add whitening toothpaste and dental flosas these are basic toiletriesWe would like to also be able to purchase noodles and to see the selection of books widened.

7) Magazine Subscriptions Sent From Publishers Are Blocked

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, under which purview OCDC operates, encourages incarcerated people to “have access to have a general right to read and access information that is commonly available to the public and are encouraged to do so [...] To buy a newspaper or magazine that is not on the canteen list, [the prisoner] must make arrangements through a third party (e.g., family member, friend, etc.), to subscribe and pay for the newspaper or magazine”. As stated by the Ministry, we are encouraged and allowed magazine subscriptions. Yet, a policy blocking magazine subscriptions came in effect in October. Not having access to our literature harms our mental health greatlyIn addition, our families and loved ones have already paid for the magazines that are being blocked since October by the OCDC administration that is acting in contradiction with the directives that it should follow. We would like to be able to get our subscriptions back.

8) We Are Not Given Appropriate Winter Clothing

In the winter time, we are denied gloves and toques when getting outside yard time, while the jackets we are offered are very oldripped and thin. We would like warm jacketsa toque and gloves, so we can get fresh air for twenty minutes when we are offered yard without putting ourselves at risk. It is our health and safety that is at stake.

9) Meals Are Inedible and Not Nutritious

The quality of the food the jail serves us is terrible. When we get the meal trays, the vegetables are soggy and depleted from their nutritional value – the food is inedible. The nutrition guide is clearly not respected. The portions are also extremely small. We would like better quality foodmore variety and bigger portions to limit the impact of incarceration on our health.

Post-face from the JAIL / Jail Accountability and Information Line

In Canada, provincial jails are places were the people under the colonial grip of the state suffer from state-sanctioned aggression under the pretence of “public safety” and “justice”. The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) is the local remand centre situated in the National Capital Region of Canada and what transpires there is not unique to the jail. This is made evident in the writing of prisoners in Canada spanning decades, as well as the work of those involved in Prisoners’ Justice Day organizing since the death of Eddie Nalon on August 10th 1974 and the recent campaign by Burnside prisoners in Nova Scotia.

Yesterday, the men incarcerated at the Burnside provincial jail issued a statement of support to Cyntoia Brown, a sister who has been imprisoned for defending herself from her aggressor. Their solidarity extended to all women who are criminalized for the mere fact of standing up to aggressors in acts of self-defence. They demanded that all women who are incarcerated for standing up to gender-based violence around the world ought to be released. The article was written by the prisoners and shared by long-time prisoners’ rights advocate, poet, professor, and vocal social justice activist El Jones. In the piece, the Burnside prisoners called for the liberation of all victims of injustices around the world.

Back in August 2018, the individuals incarcerated in the jail located in the Halifax Regional Municipality went on a 20-day non-violent protest - which received considered public support - to challenge the inhumane conditions of detention and the injustices they were subjected to by a problematic “injustice” system that draws its underlaying foundation in colonialism and slavery. In their communications, they asserted that their goal is to improve the jail conditions in order to ameliorate the environment for both staff and prisoners, along with their respective families. After taking all the existing channels of complaints, discussion and negotiation, and after seeing their persistent efforts to improve inhumane conditions of detention turned down, rejected and thwarted, these individuals, to whom the motto “out of sight, out of mind” applies, saw themselves forced to take-up an even more proactive way to draw attention to their appalling fate. 

The bar set by the provincial jail at Burnside had been set so low that no one can honestly say that the demands put forth by the prisoners there were unreasonable. No one with the semblance of humanity can argue against their requests. They asked for better healthcare, programming, space for physical activity, an appropriate and humane visitation protocol, adequate clothing, healthier food and commissary, improvements to the air circulation system and access to a library. However, on September 2018, the last day of the protest, the prisoners reported worse conditions than those in the beginning of their peaceful action.

They continue to plead for their cause, noting that their “current standard has been allowed to deteriorate past an atmosphere that is beyond uncomfortable and is blatantly unconstitutional”. Prisoners at OCDC are expressing similar concerns and requests, and the JAIL hotline will continue to work with them and their loved ones to ensure that their voices are heard, respected and translate into meaningful change.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Outlook for criminalization and punishment in 2019

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

2018 was a year where those engaged in the politics of promoting criminalization and punishment successfully rolled-back reforms and stopped others dead in their tracks that, if enacted, had the potential to constrain penal power. In 2019, those working towards divesting from, and reinvesting the resources currently devoured by, the 'criminal justice' system will need to contend with these "carceral clawbacks" and other key issues outlined below that'll likely garner considerable political attention this year in Ontario and/or across Canada.

How many people need to die before 
Canadians on mass demand an end to drug prohibition?

Despite the 'legalization' of recreational marijuana, 2018 brought considerable pain to those fighting for compassion and care with and for drug users in Canada. Last year, people continued to needlessly die of opioid overdoses by the thousands as those in power refused to end the failure that's drug prohibition or even take the modest step of decriminalizing simple possession of prohibited drugs so that individuals don't consume unregulated substances (sometimes spiked with fentanyl) in hiding. The latter approach has shown to improve public health and community safety when accompanied by more investments in harm reduction and treatment. Worse still, some politicians like new Ontario Premier Doug Ford think it's a good idea to erect more red tape to restrict harm reduction capacity, while adding burdensome reporting requirements at a time when more resources, not paperwork, are needed.

As more and more stories of how drug prohibition kills and harm reduction saves lives hit closer to home for an increasing amount of Canadians, let 2019 be the year where municipal, provincial and territorial, and federal governments finally acquiesce to legitimate demands to end the costly and ineffective war on drugs, which above all else is "a war on people". The senseless carnage needs to stop.

More policing money shakedowns to come?

In capitalist societies, both private and public entities are wired for growth. While companies often problematically turn to contraction when financial booms turn to busts, a cycle which is endemic to our economic order, 'criminal justice' entities are often very adept at managing crises (e.g. financial, reputational, etc.) that would see their role in a given society shift or shrink in ways that would translate into resources being lost. In fact, historically, they're masters at neutralizing attempts to enact fundamental reforms coming from inside and outside their organizations, while managing to convince governments that more is better even as they continually fail meet the stated objectives that legitimate their existence.

In 2018, we witnessed this dynamic play-out when police forces demanded more money and resources to enforce the 'legalization' of recreational marijuana. Given the vast amount of resources dedicated to and wasted on law enforcement activities associated with the war on drugs, it's difficult to fathom how a legalization regime can translate into greater policing costs (perhaps we're doing it wrong?). Yet, we've managed to do it. Heads (illegal) or tails (legal) - they win.

As communities historically targeted by police seek to end the systemic repression they face, the trade-off to get law enforcement entities to acquiesce is more policing. The question is, when it comes to matters of social justice like ending the racist practice of carding, should governments and the people they claim to represent accept policing money shakedowns in 2019? Should we also accept the proposition that police forces require bigger budgets so that they can 'get more boots on the ground' and increase capacity for 'community policing' when "it has not been proven to reduce crime"? Shouldn't we be spending this money on ensuring that all communities are adequately resourced so that the basic needs of their residents (i.e. housing, food, education, health and mental health care, etc.) are met?

If "everyone across the province will be required to make sacrifices",
how will Ontario's jails and prisons be impacted?

While on the campaign trail, then Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford promised that he'd end the "party" with "taxpayers' money" if elected, but offered few clues about how this would be achieved. After roughly half a year in office, Ontarians are getting a glimpse of what Premier Ford and his team have in store "for the people" - service and benefits cuts for the masses and policies to line the pockets of the rich. Such measures were sold by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli during the release of the Fall 2018 economic update as "sacrifices" born by all.

What government austerity will mean for prisoners and staff in Ontario's jails and prisons isn't yet clear. Will they follow the Stephen Harper conservatives who during their time on Parliament Hill expanded the federal governments capacity to imprison at a great cost, while making conditions of confinement more austere? Will they follow the Mike Harris conservatives who during their time at Queen's Park enacted a 'no frills' regime of incarceration as part of a broader strategy to discipline workers and the poor to expect lower living standards in Ontario, while testing the jail privatization waters? Will they follow the Ralph Klein conservatives in Alberta (circa mid-1990s), who turned to decarceration measures as a means of reducing government expenditure?

In 2019, we should begin to have answers on this front. No matter the direction taken, it's essential to build bridges between the people inside and outside of Ontario's jails and prisons in order to work towards reducing the province's reliance on imprisonment, while improving living and working conditions for all.

Build communities or cages?

Among the decisions that the Ford government will make in 2019 is whether to follow through with the Wynne government's plan to build bigger jails to replace existing ones in Ottawa and Thunder Bay. While the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services had indicated this past fall that the projects were moving forward, as news of cuts to benefits and services in Ontario were rolled-out the webpage updating the public on the status of carceral expansion in the province was removed (see image below).


As the cuts keep coming, Premier Ford and his team will have to decide whether they can defend a wasteful plan "for the people" that includes expanding the means to cage more of us when there are plenty of reasons not to do so, and better alternatives to enhance community well-being and safety.

Is there a future for solitary confinement in Ontario and in Canada?

Since the October 2007 preventable death of Ashley Smith in a segregation cell at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ontario came to light, there's been on-going scrutiny of the barbaric practice of solitary confinement.  While ardent proponents of this form of torture have denied the victimization endured by those who've experience it and defended the status quo, others have demanded changes ranging from placing limits on who can be segregated and the amount of time one can spend in 'the hole' to its abolition, full-stop.

In Ontario, legal action related to the prolonged isolation of Christina Jahn at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and media scrutiny associated with the segregation of Adam Capay for over 1,500 days at the Thunder Bay Jail were central to the Wynne government introducing and passing legislation that included placing limits on the use of solitary confinement in its jails and prisons. The law has yet to be proclaimed into force by the Lieutenant Governor and is collecting dust on Premier Ford's desk. What the Premier will do remains a mystery, but in the meantime the use of segregation in the province is once again climbing.

With court cases in British Columbia and Ontario determining the constitutionality of solitary confinement at the federal level, the Trudeau government engaged in legal manoeuvring in defence of the status quo at the same time that it introduced legislation in June 2017 that, among other things, proposed placing limits on the practice. The federal government lost both cases and the June 2017 bill was subsequently shelved, only to be followed by the introduction of new legislation in October 2018 that proponents claim will "eliminate segregation". Even as new legislation was brought forward, the federal government's legal manoeuvring continued in an apparent effort to buy themselves more time.

As has been noted elsewhere, the proposed law will likely fall well-short of ending segregation if enacted as-is. With the clock ticking on the federal government, who has until 30 April 2019 to put in place measures to remedy the issues flagged in the Ontario court ruling, change is coming. If the Trudeau government is sincere in wanting to end solitary confinement, my advice to them is to get Coralee Smith (who has been a leading advocate on the matter since the death of her daughter Ashley in a federal penitentiary more than a decade ago) on the phone and provide her with the opportunity to get involved in amending Bill C-83 to ensure it's positioned to accomplish its stated aims, while neutralizing those who wish to preserve the draconian status quo. As the Liberals in Ottawa should know all too well after sitting in political obscurity during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lengthy tenure in office, when 'criminal justice' reforms are introduced with the support of victims connected to high-profile deaths, it's difficult to muster an effective defence of existing arrangements.

The "other death penalty" olympics - 2019 federal election edition?

As if they're both helpless in the matter, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer are expecting the 2019 federal election campaign to "get nasty". After all, how else can you distinguish yourself from your opponent when you're both situated in the "extreme centre" where you and your opponents, more often than not, champion policies that facilitate the intensification of wealth accumulation in the hands of few, while distracting and selling-out everyday people who put you in office?

Enter the "other death penalty" olympics - 2019 federal election edition? Who can be crueller to those that are collectively denounced for engaging in the cruellest of acts? Who can ratchet-up the deprivations of imprisonment they face to match just how little we now value freedom, which has become taken for granted to the point that removing it from others, in and of itself, is never enough? Who can be 'tougher' in the face of the 'worst of the worst' (as if it is easier to show humanity to those who've trespassed against us than it is to dehumanize and degrade them)? Who can import more policies enacted elsewhere that have failed to make communities safer in the name of 'public safety'?

With the 'faint hope' clause gone for all and parole eligibility having become a fiction for some because we allowed ourselves to get drawn into setting public policy in response to the horrors perpetrated by the likes of Clifford Olson and other exceptionally rare and sadistic individuals, we effectively have a death by incarceration penalty in this country. Given that the average time spent behind bars for murder in Canada is now much lengthier in comparison to (a) when state executions were still allowable in 1976 or (b) what we see in many other comparable jurisdictions, what would it say about us all if we continue to allow ourselves to be led down this road where 'healing lodges' aren't prisons and medium-security penitentiaries are 'luxurious'? If we deny any semblance of humanity to others, deny that people can and do often change for the better, we deny ourselves of the same.

Perhaps Canadians will be spared from such corrosive political brinksmanship during the next federal election campaign. However, the opportunity for mudslinging might be too tempting for Liberal and Conservative politicians who've spent the past few months assigning blame to each other and defending themselves for how people convicted of murdering children like Victoria Stafford cascaded through the federal penitentiary system during their respective times in government.

Instead of engaging in one-upmanship, our political leaders should work together to ensure adequate investments are made in proven measures to prevent victimization and to ensure capacity exists to meet the needs of those impacted by interpersonal violence to the degree that's possible through tried-and-tested approaches such as restorative justice (note: federal government spending on prevention, victims services and restorative justice comes nowhere near the roughly $2.5 billion it costs to operate and manage its penitentiaries).

Canadians deserve pathways to peace. However, if the past offers a glimpse into the future, we're more likely to receive additional pathways to vengeance that foster anger and seed division, which is exactly what those who ascend to political power need for the morally bereft neoliberal capitalist order that lines their pockets and those of their wealthy benefactors to continue. With the future of my children and our planet at stake, in 2019, I hope I'm proven wrong.