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.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The plan to build a new and bigger jail in Ottawa, and what can be learned from the New Edmonton Remand Centre experience

Statement prepared for 
"Building a Bigger Jail in Ottawa or Community Alternatives?"

T.O.D.D. / Together Overcoming Darkness and Despair 
Support & Advocacy Foundation

“It is no longer possible – as if it ever were – to remain indifferent to the sight of another human being caged. One must either share the degradation or be responsible for it. In one way or another one has to be accountable, whether to conscience or to peers who do care”.
– Liz Elliott

We would like to start by saying thank you for requesting our input on this sensitive subject. We will try to keep this brief.

As Albertans, and more so Edmontonians, we have gone through a similar experience to what you are about to embark on. We would love to say that the move was and is a positive one, but those of us who live in the “real world” are very aware that this is not a positive change and not the answer.

In Edmonton, we replaced our thirty-three-year-old remand centre which was overcrowded, and run down, with “the largest, most technologically advanced remand facility in Canada”. We were told this was a smart move, that it would improve the quality of life for prisoners, and things would get better overall. There would be more “services” offered and more opportunities for those inside; that the open concept would improve relationships and the overall feelings inside.

These promises all sounded great. However, paper and practice are not only two different things, but they also require work and a shift in attitude. Sadly, we have not seen this shift in attitude.

To put it simply, our new remand centre was “supposed” to bring positive change for human lives and we have yet to see this play out. Do not get us wrong, there are some things that have improved; the conditions at times, the space, and the addition of some programs. The dynamic security being a new idea in remand has been a bit of a learning curve, but appears to be a positive one.

We would argue that these changes and the larger facility have also opened the door to many negative and unfamiliar changes. Visitation has changed and in our minds gotten worse. We at the T.O.D.D. Foundation understand the importance of face-to-face visits and these have sadly been taken over by off-site, video visitation. Human beings need direct contact with loved ones to thrive and this is no longer happening.

We would argue that because the remand centre is able to “house” more people it has become more of an option to hold people awaiting trial, rather than release them. Due to the fact that the new remand centre is viewed as an “improvement”, imprisonment is now more acceptable in Alberta.

Of course, like most things in this country, this has and is affecting more Indigenous people more than ever, which is part of what we were trying to avoid. A Calgary teenager was kept in remand because he had no home to go to. A woman who was brutally assaulted, was transported and imprisoned alongside the man who attacked her, to ensure she attended the preliminary hearing. The impacts of colonization, the refusal to fully acknowledge, accept and understand what non-Indigenous 'successes' have done, and “historical amnesia” are some of the roots of the issues we face today.

Right now, there is simply not enough time for us to get into the many pitfalls and the few benefits to building this new prison. Overall, we believe that the money, time, and effort could and should have been used to make a real difference in the lives of those that encounter our justice system. This can only be achieved by increasing positive options, as well as alternatives to incarceration as they are more effective for more people and much cheaper than our current options.

In closing, we are forever hopeful that our voices will be heard and that we will begin to invest in one another, rather than alienate each other.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

More bail, less jail?

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

As one of many organizations that has called upon the Government of Ontario to enact meaningful reforms to the penal system, members of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project are pleased that Attorney General Naqvi is proceeding ahead with measures designed to reduce the number of accused awaiting trial in remand centres, along with directives to limit the conditions imposed on those granted bail as a means of reducing breaches that often result in the unnecessary placement of people behind bars. We hope Queen’s Park will continue with the work needed to diminish our province’s reliance on incarceration, including revisiting whether Ottawa needs a new and bigger jail.

If, as Attorney General Naqvi himself recognizes, “Even a brief period of detention in custody affects the mental, social and physical life of the accused and his family” and that “Jails are not the places you send somebody to get better. The right kinds of supports are in the community”, then why are hundreds of millions of dollars that could otherwise be spent on addressing social inequality, preventing harm and supporting neighbourhood conflict resolution capacity being diverted under the watch of his Cabinet colleague Minister of Corrections Lalonde towards building infrastructure that will sustain the proven failure of imprisonment for generations to come?

As more details about the new “multi-purpose” jail emerge in the weeks and months ahead, its proponents will continue to claim that the expansive and expensive facility will benefit our community by meeting the needs of prisoners, contributing to their rehabilitation and reintegration. During this process, new and bigger jail supporters need to face the futility of their pursuit. They need to face the fact that this community has been here before. For instance, when the decision to build the Innes Road jail was made, Progressive Conservative Allan Grossman – then Ontario Minister for the Department of Reform Institutions – declared that new regional detention centres would open “broad horizons for the introduction of intelligent and humane methods of meeting the needs of those who enter this door”. We don’t have to look very far to see how past visions of progressive humanization were run into the ground once implemented behind the razor wire.

If a greater emphasis on bail is to translate into less of a reliance on jail, Ottawa-Centre MPP Naqvi and Ottawa-Orléans MPP Lalonde need to get on the same page, and put in place the necessary community infrastructure to support this vision. Plans to build a new and bigger jail need to be thrown into the dustbin of history from which we can learn a great deal and ought to not repeat.