FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ottawa JAIL hotline takes more than 650 calls in its first three months of operations – nearly 1 in 10 callers report issues with access to and the administration of opioid substitution treatment medications
12 March 2019 – A volunteer hotline setup to take calls from prisoners at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) and their loved ones in December 2018 to monitor and work towards addressing issues at the jail has received 659 phone calls in three months. Approximately 20 percent of the total calls received from prisoners at the Innes Road jail cited health care as their primary concern, with nearly half of these callers reporting issues with access to, and the administration of, opioid substitution treatment medications in the context of an overdose epidemic inside and outside jail walls in Ontario.
While no prisoners have died recently at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) from drug overdoses, JAIL hotline callers have identified a number of issues that suggest the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is not positioning the institution as well as it could to avoid future catastrophes. Dozens of OCDC prisoners have reported not getting access to their treatment regimens and experiencing excruciating withdrawal symptoms. One former OCDC prisoner describes the impact the situation has had: “they’re doing a third more time because they’re not sleeping”. Even when people get access to their medications, callers report receiving insufficient or inconsistently timed dosages, which increases the probability of overdoses upon release. One caller remarked: “Within three weeks they tapered me down to 2 millilitres. After release I wasn’t able to make it to my methadone clinic and ended-up overdosing”. The lack of continuity in care between jails and community healthcare providers was also an issue for many callers who expressed their frustrations waiting weeks for access to their OST medications because OCDC healthcare staff were not acting on the opioid substitution treatment agreement forms sent by community doctors in a timely manner. One caller stated: “Some people get cut-off their methadone inside, then when they get released the methadone clinics are closed, and people get heroin with fentanyl in it and they OD”.
JAIL hotline coordinator Sarah Speight underscores the significance of these problems: “In the face of this crisis, where an average of more than three human beings died every day in the province in 2017 – a trend which continues – the Government of Ontario needs to do more to stop preventable deaths, including in custody”. For Speight, there are several solutions available to address the overdose crisis inside and outside jail walls: “At OCDC, prisoners who require methadone or suboxone should have timely access to their medication. Providing nasal naxolone to prisoners to augment the emergency response capacity of the institution, and providing education on harm reduction and overdose prevention resources to people upon their release from custody would also help. To ensure continuity of care from communities to jails, the provincial government should transfer medical and mental health care responsibilities to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. This would save lives and money. Premier Ford should also demand that Prime Minister Trudeau’s federal government decriminalize and facilitate access to a safe supply of regulated drugs of a known potency to prevent the further criminalization and deaths of people who use them”.
Several other issues reported by prisoners documented in the JAIL hotline’s first quarterly report include: matters relating to access to justice; prolonged use of segregation and inadequate review mechanisms; the inability of prisoners to call the cell phones of their loved ones and the above-market, high costs of collect calls; poor treatment from some staff members; lack of medical privacy due to continued medical and mental heallth assessments through cell door slots; cutting-off or modification of the administration of prescriptions; poor air quality; lack of cleanliness in some cells; inadequate winter gear to access yard; 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 endured more austere conditions of confinement.
The JAIL hotline’s first quarterly report contains 23 recommendations to limit the damage of incarceration experienced by prisoners. Souheil Benslimane – who’s also a JAIL hotline coordinator – notes, “what we’re proposing are common sense remedies to improve conditions of confinement at OCDC and reduce the use of imprisonment. We will continue our work with prisoners and their loved ones, no matter the barriers, no matter the walls that stand in our way”.
To arrange for a media interview with report authors contact:
Souheil Benslimane, Coordinator, JAIL Hotline – 819-592-6469 / firstname.lastname@example.org