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.


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