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 group, we 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. Also, the 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 patient. We 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 time, blood 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 come every 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 reason, the 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 problem; it impacts our mental and physical health, our safe reintegration into society, as well as hampers the support we can receive from our families. This 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 floss as these are basic toiletries. We 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 greatly. In 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 old, ripped and thin. We would like warm jackets, a 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 food, more 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.