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.

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