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.

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