Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Media Advisory - Bell Let Us Talk Protest in Ottawa - Imprisonment, Corporate Profits and Mental Health

Wednesday, January 29, 2020
12:00pm – 12:30pm

Bell Place
160 Elgin Street / Ottawa

Souheil Benslimane (Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line)
Farhat Rehman (Member, MOMS / Mothers Offering Mutual Support)
Leah Bell (Member, Overdose Prevention Ottawa)
Michael Spratt (Partner, Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP)
Joel Harden (Member of Provincial Parliament – Ottawa-Centre)

Despite Bell’s “Let’s Talk” mental health campaign, the phone company makes big money from Ontario’s outdated and predatory jail phone system that causes economic and mental distress to prisoners and people that support them in the community. Imprisonment forcibly separates prisoners from their loved ones and resources in the community, which undermines our collective well-being and safety in the name of protecting society. Phone calls are a lifeline in prisons, but in 2020 Ontario’s jail phone system still doesn’t allow prisoners to call cell phones. Prisoners can only reach their loved ones and community care providers by phone through expensive collect calls that only compound the challenges and anguish faced by people impacted by human caging. Who benefits from this flawed and expensive system? Prison Industrial Complex actors like Bell Canada and the Ministry of the Solicitor General who receives kickbacks from them. The contract for Ontario’s jail phone system is up and there’s an opportunity to put in place a new model that allows prisoners to call the cell phones and landlines of their loved ones, lawyers and community care providers without charging them exorbitant fees.

During this protest that will include short speeches and songs, participants will make the following demands: 
  1. That the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ontario Government replaces the current outdated and expensive provincial jail phone system with one that a) makes telecommunication cost-free for Ontario's provincial prisoners and their community supports, b) allows prisoners to call any number in Canada directly – including cellphones, and c) increases or eliminates the 20-minute limit on phone calls. 
  2. That the Government of Ontario promote keeping loved ones connected by reducing the use of human caging through greater investments in initiatives that a) meet the basic needs of all Ontarians (i.e. access to housing, education, employment, health and mental health care, etc.), b) prevent violence and offer access to transformative justice when harm occurs, as well as c) divert and decarcerate people from jail to the extent possible. 
The event will end with participants taking concrete actions to pressure the Ontario Government and Bell Canada to make immediate changes to the province’s jail phone system that are consistent with their stated corporate objectives. A similar rally is being held tomorrow at 1pm in Toronto at Bell's headquarters and a petition including the demands above has already amassed more than 2,500 signatures.

Souheil Benslimane

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

JAIL hotline marks the end of year one and releases its third quarterly report


A year after its launch, the Jail Accountability & Information Line continues to work with prisoners to address human rights issues and re-entry barriers at the Innes Road jail, and releases its third quarterly report

10 December 2019 – Exactly one year ago, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) began taking calls from people incarcerated at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) and their loved ones. The goals of the initiative were and remain to reduce the harms and use of imprisonment by working with callers to resolve human rights issues at the provincial jail on Innes Road and connecting them to services to promote safe community re-entry. Today, the JAIL hotline released its third quarterly report (click here to download) highlighting challenges faced by people forcibly confined at OCDC. During the third quarter of the JAIL hotline’s operations (10 June to 9 September 2019), volunteers took 935 calls.

Despite the efforts of those behind bars and the JAIL hotline to reform conditions of confinement at OCDC to the degree that is possible within a site of human caging, the volume of calls continues to increase each quarter (Q1 = 659 calls; Q2 = 796 calls; Q3 = 935 calls; Q4 = 1,012 calls). Aaron Doyle, Sociology Professor at Carleton University and co-founder of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) which started the hotline, notes: “In the last year, we’ve taken 3,402 calls. Our reports reveal how the Government of Ontario often fails to provide the most basic necessities to prisoners. The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General still hasn’t addressed most of the issues we’ve raised in a meaningful way. Much could be improved at OCDC if they implemented our reasonable recommendations. The continued neglect by the province is disturbing, shameful and undermines community safety”.

As noted in the first two quarterly reports for the JAIL hotline, access to healthcare continued to be a major area of concern for callers during its third quarter. The delays in accessing prescription withdrawal management drugs, long waits for access to health, mental health and dental care, and forcing prisoners to choose between receiving medications or access to yard time and scheduled court appearances were among the notable issues in this area reported by prisoners at OCDC. For JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight, these issues require immediate action. She states: “It’s unacceptable that people being held at OCDC are left suffering while waiting for essential medical care. From dental care to opioid substitution treatment, the Ministry is responsible for ensuring people in their custody have access to a standard of care equivalent to that available outside of the jail. One way they can live-up to their human and constitutional obligations is to expand temporary absences and other forms of community release on medical grounds so that people can access the care they need. This would improve both public health and community safety outcomes”.

During its third quarter, JAIL hotline callers also continued to report barriers to accessing justice. Key concerns raised by callers in this area included a lack of access to legal information and institutional regulations, as well as complaint mechanisms. Callers also reported facing reprisals for defending their rights. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, explains one impact of these barriers: “People held at OCDC can’t challenge poor conditions of confinement and inhumane treatment in a meaningful and effective way. One reason is that the institutional complaint process at OCDC is extremely dysfunctional. It isn’t transparent, swift, clear, effective or impartial. In a context where accused parties are also the judges, the province remains unaccountable to incarcerated persons”.

A central issue running through the report released today is that many of the challenges OCDC prisoners face negatively impact their health and well-being. Justin Piché, Criminology Professor at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of CPEP, explains: “Callers continue to report long-standing issues with the conditions of the institution, including mold present throughout the facility that could be cleaned but is left to fester causing breathing problems, and a phone system that cuts prisoners off from their families and communities due to incredibly high costs and the inability to call cell phones. Reforms to segregation on paper have changed little for those experiencing it, unnecessary barriers to bail and release planning continue to exist, and the food system remains a source of frustration and health problems at the jail. The recommendations made by JAIL hotline callers don’t require a new and bigger $1 billion jail the Ministry wants to replace OCDC with. History tells us a new building will reproduce similar problems. If the province has money to spend, it should divest from jailing and invest in things that actually enhance community well-being and safety”.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane 
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com