Thursday, December 7, 2017

It’s time for transparency and public consultation on the new “Ottawa Correctional Complex”

Aaron Doyle (Chair, Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University) and 
Justin Piché (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)

* Article first published 7 December 2017 in the Ottawa Sun

Premier Wynne promised to make “government more transparent” following the 2014 election, but this commitment is lying in ashes so far where the Ottawa jail file is concerned. The Wynne government has adopted the “decide, announce, defend” approach as they move towards building a new and bigger jail in Ottawa, keeping plans under wraps, and not initiating the kind of public consultations frequently held in other places when new jails are planned.

According to our research, secrecy surrounding jail expansion in Ottawa began in March 2016 when a contract was awarded by the province to draw up a master plan for the new jail.  We were shocked to discover the timing of this, because a month later in April 2016, Ottawa-Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was then Corrections minister, made  statements to the media that building a new jail would fail taxpayers and that “our real challenge is to reduce the demand for jail”. He said all this even as plans were already underway for a new jail in Ottawa. Did Naqvi not know what his own ministry was up to in his own backyard?

When the plan to build a bigger jail was finally made public in a surprise announcement in May 2017 by new Corrections minister and Ottawa-Orléans MPP Marie-France Lalonde, the provincial government continued to drop the ball on transparency and public consultation. For instance, the province didn’t disclose the anticipated price tag of the new jail, leaving others to do the estimating for them to generate public discussion on the costs and benefits of spending scarce taxpayer dollars in this way.

After some digging, we now know that Infrastructure Ontario pegs the cost of the “Ottawa Correctional Complex” at $500 million to $1 billion, consistent with our previous estimates. The new, bigger jail will also be delivered via a public-private-partnership (P3) to design, build, finance, and maintain the facility – an approach that Ontario’s Auditor General says is slower and more costly than other ways of developing publicly-funded infrastructure. Why has Queen’s Park yet to widely share this information with the public and why haven’t they publicly explained why they are building a jail that is 140 beds or nearly 25 percent bigger than OCDC when the government’s own ministers say the goal is to keep more people out of jail? Why not wait for newly introduced bail reforms and other measures to reduce jail crowding?

If the government continues down this path, if and when “open houses” are finally held with the public to discuss the project, they will be open in name only. For them to be truly open, the Wynne government needs to consider funding community supports designed to prevent social harm and keep people out jail by addressing social inequality, such as resources for people who are homeless, living with mental health issues or criminalized for using drugs, and meeting the needs of other marginalized populations beyond, instead of behind, bars. Given how things are going, even stakeholders who are supporters of a new jail – whether smaller or bigger – will likely have little input into the plans for the new facility. Given that the planned jail – if built – will be located on Algonquin Territory, an appropriate consultation should include input from Indigenous peoples.

The lack of consultation with the people of our city and region, prior to the announcement of the new ‘Ottawa Correctional Complex’ and ever since, suggests those at Queen’s Park would rather dictate our futures than govern with public input in mind. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives have committed to speeding-up the process if they take power in 2018. This is not realistic or healthy – it’s scary – if the PCs really want a better facility than the one we’ve got now on Innes Road. In fact, the only way a new jail could be built more quickly would to abandon the slow and costly P3 process or to throw-up a new, desolate human warehouse in Ottawa similar to the pre-fab Toronto South Detention Centre that opened in 2014. Rushing it like the PCs want to do would more than likely result in the erection of a new “hellhole”.

The time is now for the Government of Ontario to immediately open public discussion in Ottawa on plans to build a new and bigger jail in Ottawa. We need a robust public consultation to consider various options for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make life better in Eastern Ontario. Whether one agrees with a new jail in Ottawa or not, research has shown that open and transparent approaches to public infrastructure decision-making translate into better outcomes for all.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Reducing Imprisonment in Canada by Attrition: A Vision for 2018 and Beyond

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

In a 1988 article published in the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Jo-Ann Mayhew remarked from her cell in P4W / Prison for Women in Kingston that “allowing our experience and analysis to be added to the forum that will constitute public opinion could help halt the disastrous trend toward building more fortresses of fear which will become in the 21st century this generation’s monuments to failure”.  While Canada’s rate of incarceration remained stable in the first three decades following Jo-Ann Mayhew’s hopeful statement, a turning point emerged in 2018 when a series of scandals prompted a mass movement calling for prison divestment.  

As the movement grew – with more and more Canadians becoming convinced that incarceration was no longer an acceptable means of responding to social harm – the Government of Canada, along with its provincial and territorial counterparts who had been in the process of building new carceral spaces, officially committed to a moratorium stopping the construction of new jails, prisons, penitentiaries, and immigration detention centres.  Not satisfied, Canadians demanded a gradual attrition of the country’s prison population through a series of decarceration and excarceration / diversion measures, as well as the reinvestment of resources once earmarked for the penal system towards building healthy communities and capacity for transformative justice. 

Canadians said no to the mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples and Black individuals. They said no to the feminization and criminalization of poverty. They said no to the imprisonment of the legally innocent awaiting trial. They said no to the construction of new carceral spaces to cage those living with mental health issues and criminalized for using drugs at a time when governments had not invested enough resources to provide necessary care and services in the community to prevent people from harming themselves or others. They said no to the detention of migrants and refugees

Following the 2023 federal election, where the three parties forming the new Government of Canada promised to table a multi-generational strategy to abolish prisons by 2075, the Transformative Justice Act was introduced, debated at length and passed in 2025.  Through this legislation, funding was allocated to each province and territory to implement transformative justice processes in all elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools to respond to conflicts within education settings. These investments were made to promote accountability and meet human needs in the wake of social harm, as well as to transform the social structures that gave rise to them. Workshops were also made available to families on how to implement transformative justice at home.

By 2050, transformative justice was widespread in various spheres of Canadian society, including workplaces. Canada's incarceration rate had been cut by more than half as conflict resolution and community transformative capacity had been built.  

By 2075, transformative justice became the default approach to addressing social harm across several generations of people. Incarceration officially became a relic of the past, as the Government of Canada initiated a truth and reconciliation commission to document the brutalities of imprisonment, as well as work towards healing for captives and captors alike.  Emerging from this was the creation of new penal history museums located in decommissioned jails, prisons and penitentiaries who were given the mandate to share with future generations the problems with imprisonment that led to its demise as a dominant response to social harm.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Reasons to Stop the New and Bigger Jail in Ottawa and Demand Community-based Alternatives

“We have to focus on the root causes. By building more jails, you are essentially building more capacity, and five years from now you’ll be at square one. You haven’t addressed the real problem. What we need to focus on is to reduce the demand for jails”.

 Former Ontario Corrections Minister Yasir Naqvi in April 2016.
One year later, his government announced the new and bigger jail.

1. In May 2017, the provincial government announced it was building a new, larger jail for Ottawa, moving from 585 to 725 beds. This decision was made with no consultation with the public or stakeholders.

2. The problem is not the building: The Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) has been a toxic environment marked by suicides and abuse, extended use of solitary confinement, notably for prisoners living with mental health issues, little or no therapeutic help or recreational opportunities, and grossly inadequate food, medical and psychiatric care. The task force on OCDC in 2016 made 42 recommendations – only two were about the physical space. The task force did not call for a new and bigger jail. Many reports state that new jails like those in Toronto and Edmonton don’t deliver on their promises to be more humane settings for prisoners.

3. Way bigger for no reason: OCDC was only 74 percent full as of last month, meaning there were over 100 empty spaces, but the new jail will be able to hold 25 percent more prisoners – another 140 spaces on top of the empty ones, a lot more than OCDC ever held. The province has not made public any reasons for a jail that is so much bigger.

4. Massively expensive: The approved price tag is also being kept secret by the provincial government. However, based on the cost of new jails opened in Toronto and Windsor in 2014, the new Ottawa jail will cost somewhere between 500 million and 775 million dollars. This could be spent on community measures to both enhance safety and keep people out of jail. The current building has challenges. We need discussion on how we might address them in more cost-effective ways.

5. Victimization and the rate of sentenced prisoners has been declining for years: With police-reported victimization andthe rate of sentenced prisoners declining since the 1990s, why do we need a bigger jail?

6. Keep fixing the courts and bail system instead: About two-thirds of prisoners at OCDC are pretrial and awaiting court dates, usually for many months, often for years. This remand population has grown massively due to clogged courts and problems with the bail system. The province is pouring money into measures like duty counsel and bail beds which should reduce the number of prisoners in remand. Why not wait for these measures to work?

7. A new and bigger jail will only deepen inequality: For example, Indigenous people are 2 percent of Ontario’s population, yet 13 percent of its prisoners. Research shows Black prisoners often spend longer behind bars awaiting trial than their white counterparts charged with similar offences. Many OCDC prisoners are poor and homeless.

8. Stop jailing those living with mental health issues: In 2016, then Corrections Minister Naqvi estimated that at least 25 percent of OCDC’s prisoners were living with mental health issues. Those people should have access to help in the community, instead of being in a brutal environment that damages their mental health even more.

9. Do something with that money to help now! It will likely take 5 to 7 years to build a new and bigger jail, while large gaps in community services exist today. These are hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on housing the poor, community health and mental health care services, diversion, and restorative justice measures.

10. Imprisonment doesn’t work. Historically, jails and prisons have proven both very costly and to fail in meeting their stated objectives. Criminological research shows that incarceration is the least effective way to rehabilitate people or deter law-breaking. Imprisonment damages prisoners, along with their loved ones and communities.