Tuesday, December 10, 2019

JAIL hotline marks the end of year one and releases its third quarterly report


A year after its launch, the Jail Accountability & Information Line continues to work with prisoners to address human rights issues and re-entry barriers at the Innes Road jail, and releases its third quarterly report

10 December 2019 – Exactly one year ago, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) began taking calls from people incarcerated at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) and their loved ones. The goals of the initiative were and remain to reduce the harms and use of imprisonment by working with callers to resolve human rights issues at the provincial jail on Innes Road and connecting them to services to promote safe community re-entry. Today, the JAIL hotline released its third quarterly report (click here to download) highlighting challenges faced by people forcibly confined at OCDC. During the third quarter of the JAIL hotline’s operations (10 June to 9 September 2019), volunteers took 935 calls.

Despite the efforts of those behind bars and the JAIL hotline to reform conditions of confinement at OCDC to the degree that is possible within a site of human caging, the volume of calls continues to increase each quarter (Q1 = 659 calls; Q2 = 796 calls; Q3 = 935 calls; Q4 = 1,012 calls). Aaron Doyle, Sociology Professor at Carleton University and co-founder of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) which started the hotline, notes: “In the last year, we’ve taken 3,402 calls. Our reports reveal how the Government of Ontario often fails to provide the most basic necessities to prisoners. The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General still hasn’t addressed most of the issues we’ve raised in a meaningful way. Much could be improved at OCDC if they implemented our reasonable recommendations. The continued neglect by the province is disturbing, shameful and undermines community safety”.

As noted in the first two quarterly reports for the JAIL hotline, access to healthcare continued to be a major area of concern for callers during its third quarter. The delays in accessing prescription withdrawal management drugs, long waits for access to health, mental health and dental care, and forcing prisoners to choose between receiving medications or access to yard time and scheduled court appearances were among the notable issues in this area reported by prisoners at OCDC. For JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight, these issues require immediate action. She states: “It’s unacceptable that people being held at OCDC are left suffering while waiting for essential medical care. From dental care to opioid substitution treatment, the Ministry is responsible for ensuring people in their custody have access to a standard of care equivalent to that available outside of the jail. One way they can live-up to their human and constitutional obligations is to expand temporary absences and other forms of community release on medical grounds so that people can access the care they need. This would improve both public health and community safety outcomes”.

During its third quarter, JAIL hotline callers also continued to report barriers to accessing justice. Key concerns raised by callers in this area included a lack of access to legal information and institutional regulations, as well as complaint mechanisms. Callers also reported facing reprisals for defending their rights. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, explains one impact of these barriers: “People held at OCDC can’t challenge poor conditions of confinement and inhumane treatment in a meaningful and effective way. One reason is that the institutional complaint process at OCDC is extremely dysfunctional. It isn’t transparent, swift, clear, effective or impartial. In a context where accused parties are also the judges, the province remains unaccountable to incarcerated persons”.

A central issue running through the report released today is that many of the challenges OCDC prisoners face negatively impact their health and well-being. Justin Piché, Criminology Professor at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of CPEP, explains: “Callers continue to report long-standing issues with the conditions of the institution, including mold present throughout the facility that could be cleaned but is left to fester causing breathing problems, and a phone system that cuts prisoners off from their families and communities due to incredibly high costs and the inability to call cell phones. Reforms to segregation on paper have changed little for those experiencing it, unnecessary barriers to bail and release planning continue to exist, and the food system remains a source of frustration and health problems at the jail. The recommendations made by JAIL hotline callers don’t require a new and bigger $1 billion jail the Ministry wants to replace OCDC with. History tells us a new building will reproduce similar problems. If the province has money to spend, it should divest from jailing and invest in things that actually enhance community well-being and safety”.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane 
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com  

Thursday, October 10, 2019

With Bell Canada’s contract with Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General set to expire, a new report recommends free calling for the province’s prisoners


10 October 2019 – Today, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) released a report (click here to download) documenting the problems with the Bell Canada administered provincial prison phone system that does not allow calls to cellphones and serves as a source of hardship for prisoners’ families who have to pay the exorbitant costs of collect calls, which often amount to hundreds of dollars per month and sometimes even thousands. With Bell Canada’s contract with the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General set to expire in 2020, the report recommends that the province adopt a new phone system that allows prisoners to make free calls to both landlines and cellphones, in keeping with other jurisdictions who have put in place such measures to foster community connections that enhance the safe re-entry of prisoners following their release from custody.

The JAIL hotline, which takes calls on weekdays from 1:00pm to 4:00pm from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community, has been operating since 10 December 2018. In ten months, it has taken 2,677 calls, highlighting the need for short-term reforms to limit the damage of human caging, while working towards greater investments in community-based alternatives to reduce the use of imprisonment. Among the problems in the jail that could be alleviated to some extent by immediate reforms is the degree of isolation OCDC prisoners experience when they're forcibly separated from their families and supports in the community. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, notes: “While human caging, so long as it exists, will always keep people inside and others outside the walls, causing significant pain to themselves and those close to them, putting in place a free phone system would go a long way in bridging this divide, providing means of connection that are essential to getting out and staying out of prison”.

JAIL hotline callers often come from low-income backgrounds. Their families cannot afford the added expenses associated with setting up and paying monthly bills for a landline and other telephone services that allow them to receive collect calls. Callers who experience mental health and/or drug use issues, criminalization, and poverty – constituting a significant portion of the Ontario jail population – are further marginalized by the prohibitive, predatory, and outdated jail telephone system. The need for these individuals to connect to their outside circles of support and care in order to access crucial social services is heightened when they're imprisoned. The current telephone system makes this access impossible for many and exposes them to the detrimental consequences of isolation. Far too often, the results of community disconnection are fatal, as was the case when Cleve “Cas” Geddes was cut-off from his family while he lived with schizophrenia in segregation at OCDC where he hung himself and later died in hospital (an incarcerated person's suicide risk is 5 times higher than the rest of the population).

In the United States, cost-free telecommunication for prisoners is gaining momentum. In the cities of New York and San Francisco, Shelby County, and the State of Connecticut, families don't pay to talk to their loved ones behind bars. The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General must make jail telecommunication cost-free to end the unnecessary isolation incarcerated persons experience in the jails and prisons it operates. Dr. Justin Piché, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, notes the benefits of adopting the JAIL hotline’s report recommendations: “The Ministry is in a position to better foster prisoners’ ties with their communities and families, which are known to improve safe re-entry outcomes. Premier Ford, Solicitor General Jones and their government should end the shameless profits being made on the backs of prisoners’ families through the existing jail phone system contract signed by the previous Liberal government that expires in 2020. Putting in place a new telecommunication system for confined individuals, their families, and other support systems that allows for free calling to landlines and cell phones is a sensible step towards a safer Ontario”.

The report released today is based on the information and recommendations provided by JAIL hotline callers, who are well-positioned to know the problems that exist behind bars that they regularly experience and how to address them.

For Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com

Friday, September 13, 2019

Tragic, but not hip: Escaping prison tourism at KP

Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)
Kevin Walby, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminal Justice, University of Winnipeg)

* Remarks delivered at "Teachin' Against the Big House: Teach-in on Prison Entertainment" held 12 September 2019 at Queen's University [check against delivery]*

12 September 2019 photo by Justin Piché
at the Kingston Visitor Information Centre

We’d like to begin by thanking the event organizers from the P4W Memorial Collective, Queen’s University Studies in National and International Development, and OPIRG Kingston for their role in inspiring many conversations about how to commemorate life, love, suffering, and death in decommissioned sites of human caging. We’d also like to acknowledge Linda Mussell (click to listen here) and Lisa Guenther’s (click to read here) great commentary on the concert and tours at KP this past week.

In being here today, on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee Peoples, we’re thinking not just about the ethics of the “mockin’ the big house” concert, but the broader context of racial colonial capitalism in which this event is taking place.

According to a report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator, it's estimated that Indigenous peoples are incarcerated in this country at a rate of over 900 per 100,000 residents. Compare this to the overall rate of incarceration in Canada, which has hovered between 100 and 120 per 100,000 residents in recent years. How do we explain Indigenous mass incarceration?

We must acknowledge that the reserve system, the pass and permit system, Residential Schools, the 60s scoop, mass adoption, and the like have resulted in the systematic dispossession of the cultures, the languages, and lands of Indigenous peoples, creating intergenerational traumas that’ve damaged communities and put many people behind bars, including at KP – Canada’s first colonial prison that pre-dates Confederation.

In this context of colonization where people, including musicians with extensive platforms, have acknowledged the injustices that stem from colonialism and have tried to get us to #DoSomething so we don’t repeat past atrocities, we wondered what would Gordie do – the man who in his dying days set up the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund to “engage, empower and connect students and educators to further reconciliation through awareness, education and action”?

Perhaps Downie’s affinity to Kingston would have him participate in the KP concert alongside his bandmates and other musicians. However, that’d require that he ignore the role of KP and other spaces of confinement across Canada in mass incarcerating Indigenous peoples who’ve experienced intergenerational trauma associated with Residential Schools. His participation would be in sharp contradiction to the path towards reconciliation he sought to forge and, if another concert like this promoted by organizers as a destination for “curiosity seekers” is allowed to occur at KP, we’ll continue to collectively fail to honour our obligations as settlers to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice.

The United Way and their partners should’ve taken some time to talk, before they planned to rock “the big house”. As Linda Mussell remarked during a recent radio interview (click to listen here) those involved in the concert should of asked themselves whether the ends – raising money for services to be provided for stigmatized people pushed to the margins – matches the means through which they’re doing it – hosting a concert on the grounds where people, prisoners and staff alike, have lived, loved, suffered and died. Do the ends justify the means – putting on a concert in a venue that feeds into sensationalism, fosters voyeurism and justifies the violence that took place at KP and continues elsewhere? We suspect that if a representative group of current Kingston area prisoners and former KP prisoners were brought into planning for the United Way’s charitable campaign, they'd ensure that at the very least criminalized musicians would also get to take the stage alongside the great bands involved, which would potentially open the door to other opportunities for them to share their music, or this concert wouldn’t be happening.

When examining fundraising and the role of the United Way, we can observe a carceral-charity symbiosis going on with this concert and also with KP tours, whereby a stated pursuit of social justice that seeks to humanize marginalized peoples and reduce inequality depends on acquiring money through events that generate social distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’, which allows injustice to persist.

In research on prison tourism, it’s been established that many people who pay to frequent these sites want to feel like they’re in a prison, as if being in such a setting for fleeting moment can show you what it’s like to be dehumanized in a cage. The United Way certainly has moral capital and many people donate to them, but with the opportunity to make an easy dollar before them, they’ve lost their way where KP in its current incarnation is concerned. Is there nowhere else in Kingston to host a benefit concert?

The organizers suggest they’re not trying to make light of imprisonment by staging this concert. Why then the advertisements featuring musicians in jumpsuits (see above) and bending prison bars (see below)? Do the ad designers know anything about the stigma associated with prison jumpsuits? Do the promoters know anything about what would happen to prisoners if they damaged any CSC property, let alone tried to escape a pen? We know lots of good people are involved in putting on this fundraiser with good intentions, but it’s clear to us that imprisonment has become normalized to a point that imprisonment can even be mobilized for charitable purposes without consideration for what it is – human caging.

There are lots of ways to put music and performance together to promote justice that don’t involve “mockin’ the big house”.

First, rather than profit from the allure of punishment at KP, a different approach would be to have musicians perform in an operational prison. The King of the Blues B.B. King frequently played music in prisons and advocated for change in the penal system. Playing a concert in an operational prison can challenge carceral logic, raise consciousness about imprisonment and display solidarity. It can also be a lifeline for prisoners, giving them hope or inspiration or even just a break from the carceral. It might be more useful if the “Rockin’ the Big House” performers put their talents to use to inspire persons who are among the most marginalized in Canadian society.

Second, there are programs across the USA and the UK where musicians from the outside bring musical gear inside and use music as a kind of healing intervention. Billy Brag, as well as MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, have been involved in Jail Guitar Doors, providing music equipment to prisoners and teaching music in at least a dozen sites. The “Rockin’ the Big House” performers could be doing work like this to help people inside and promote connection, communication and healing.

In other instances, musicians have been criminalized and imprisoned for their political activities, of which Pussy Riot is a recent example. The “Rockin’ the Big House” performers could be doing work to show how criminalization and incarceration have been used to repress the arts and dissent around the world.

And what about KP tours? A decade ago, we began research that’d eventually take us and our research team members to dozens of lock-up, jail, prison and penitentiary museums across Canada, including KP (click here to read 2016 op-ed in the Toronto Star), and we’ve observed a few trends. For our purposes today, we’ll discuss just two.

First, while prison tourism sites like KP and the Federal Penitentiary Museum feature content emphasizing shifts in institutional policies and practices (e.g. abolition of corporal punishment), continuities in carceral violence (e.g. use of force) tend to be ignored. Such narratives reproduce misleading ideas about the history of penal reform and justify current policies and practices.

Second, prison tourism sites like KP and the Federal Penitentiary Museum privilege “establishment narratives” of carceral entities and institutional staff, while the voices of prisoners are often absent. Their involvement is necessary to give their perspective of what they endured while imprisoned. Instead, we only get the official and staff versions of events, which fail to problematize the role imprisonment has played in colonization and state repression.

By communicating reductionist tropes of dangerous captives being reproduced alongside narratives of benevolent, heroic, and duty-bound administrators and staff there is little acknowledgement of the social structures that generate laws, law-breaking and state repression. Imprisonment is presented as legitimate and necessary on the one hand, and something to be mockingly embodied on the other.

Having authored several articles and edited a 48 chapter book critical of prison tourism, we never expected to get an opportunity to shape narratives within a museum setting. However, a few years ago, students at the University of Ottawa who became familiar with our work and were staff members at Hosteling International’s Ottawa Jail Hostel, presented us with the idea of developing a partnership to reform the tour script and exhibits at the museum site. After meeting management, this spring we began archival and document research to inform the development of new script and exhibits with the input of former prisoners in the coming months, where we’ll also be developing a video project with former Carleton County Gaol and Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre prisoners to highlight shifts and continuities in carceral violence in the nation’s capital.

In an interview with Ontario Morning (click to listen here), an official from the United Way suggested that those critical of the tour at KP should speak “with the organizers of the tour and the historian from the museum to develop, or to review, the script to make sure it is respectful of the history”.

In closing, we encourage people concerned about what’s being done at KP to ask that organizers of KP tours and charitable events to bring current and former prisoners into the planning and execution of activities at this historic site to ensure that commemoration for all who suffered there – captives and captors alike – trumps voyeurism, to ensure that education trumps entertainment, to ensure that reconciliation and decolonization trumps colonialism, and to ensure that justice trumps criminalization and human caging.

We’ve got ideas on how this can be done, as do the P4W Memorial Collective and others here in Kingston. If organizations profiting from the human misery of the past and making a living off of it in the present don’t take this modest step, perhaps another thing to consider where KP is concerned is to stop tapping into the demand for sensationalism, and to tear down those walls as some former prisoners have argued. Instead of essentially saying the ends justify the means, the United Way should use means consistent with their ends.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rally today in support of Abdilahi Elmi in Ottawa


Ottawa advocates rally behind child refugee who ended-up in foster care, 
was criminalized and now faces deportation to Somalia

Algonquin Territory / Ottawa, 20 August 2019 – Today, advocates in Halifax, Toronto, and other parts of Canada are holding peaceful protests to stand in solidarity with community members and advocates in Edmonton who are calling on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to stop the scheduled deportation of Mr. Abdilahi Elmi tomorrow on August 21st. Those gathered at a protest at 12:00pm in front of Minister Goodale’s office in Ottawa will demand Mr. Elmi, a former child refugee, not be deported to Somalia where he faces torture, indefinite detention and death.

Canada is failing Mr. Elmi who arrived in 1994 as a child refugee, at the age of ten, after living in a refugee camp with his grandmother for several years. A few years after his arrival, he was removed from his family home and placed in state care. Elmi ended up living on the streets by the age of sixteen, and became involved in the criminal justice system, in part, due to substance use issues that he is now working to manage.

The reason that Elmi faces not only incarceration, but deportation, is the result of neglect within the provincial child welfare system like in the well-documented case of Mr. Abdul Abdi, whose deportation was stayed on 17 June 2018 by Minister Goodale following a Federal Judge’s decision stating that the Canadian Government did not consider Mr. Abdi’s Charter Rights. Mr. Elmi, like Mr. Abdi, was a refugee in state care, but the child welfare agency that was responsible for him did not apply for his citizenship status. According to Aditya Rao, lawyer and member of the Ottawa Sanctuary Network (OSN), “The state has a responsibility to act in the best interests of refugee children in its care. The government has failed Abdullahi Elmi by not ensuring his immigration status was regularized while he was a ward of the state, and they cannot now turn around and penalize him for a mistake they themselves made”. Not only did the state not meet its obligations towards Mr. Elmi, who has been living as a refugee for 24 years, but it also prevented his mom from making an application for him. The federal government had a responsibility for Mr. Elmi’s education and safety, to regularize his status, and to create for him a meaningful path to citizenship, and they failed him at every turn.

On 26 June 2019, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) deemed Mr. Elmi inadmissible citing a clause in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which states that any foreign national with a sentence of imprisonment over six months may be deemed inadmissible to the country. While this clause is problematic in and of itself in that it doubly punishes persons convicted of an offence once through the criminal justice system and a second time through the immigration system, it wouldn’t have impacted Mr. Elmi if the child “welfare” system had done its job when they took Mr. Elmi into their custody and made him a ward of the state. Dr. Justin Piché, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), notes: “We have a child welfare to prison pipeline in this country, which Indigenous and other racialized people, are subject to at alarming rates. What’s happened to Mr. Elmi is unjust and deporting him will only compound the damage that’s been done. Minister Goodale must put an end to this and stay the deportation of Mr. Elmi similarly to how he stayed Mr. Abdi’s. Furthermore, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Ahmed Hussen, a former refugee himself, needs to display strong leadership and advocate for the creation of more avenues to citizenship for child refugees, including when they are ripped away from their families by the child welfare system”.

Should Mr. Elmi get deported to Somalia it’s likely that the Government of Canada will expose him to great harm. Mr. Elmi doesn’t know anything about his birth father, nor his birth father’s name, antecedents and familial relationships. He doesn’t know the clan in Somalia that he belongs to since he doesn’t know his birth father’s clan and since the acquisition of Somali citizenship is based on a patrilineal system, Mr. Elmi will be severely prejudiced by his removal to that country by Canada. As Mr. Elmi’s mother, Faduma Isse, asserted during a recent press conference, her son “has no family and doesn’t know the language and culture there. I don’t approve of his mistakes, but he would die if he’s sent back to Somalia”. The Somali government is unlikely to release Mr. Elmi to roam the streets of Kismayo or Mogadishu upon arrival in the country if he’s not able to prove that he’s a citizen of that country. Having never held a Somali passport, it’s unlikely that Mr. Elmi will be able to prove his citizenship of Somalia. The likely outcome is that Mr. Elmi will be detained without a criminal charge for a lengthy period time and will only be released at the whim of the government. The possibility that Mr. Elmi will be detained without a criminal charge and face torture and/or be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in Somalia infringes upon Mr. Elmi’s section 7 Charter right. Canada must uphold Mr. Elmi’s human rights by not signing what likely could become his death warrant.

Members of the community concerned about the human rights of refugees are encouraged to participate in this non-violent action organized by Ottawa Sanctuary Network, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, and Migrante Canada.

To arrange for interviews with organizers and speakers, please contact:
Souheil Benslimane, Member of CPEP and OSN 
souheilabouomar@gmail.com, (819) 592-6469

Friday, August 9, 2019

Statement on Prisoners' Justice Day 2019


Prisoners' Justice Day vigil being held tomorrow at Major's Hill Park to
commemorate deaths in custody and demand an end to injustices behind bars

August 9, 2019 (Algonquin Territory / Ottawa) – Former Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) prisoners will be speaking at a Prisoners’ Justice Day (PJD) vigil taking place tomorrow evening on Saturday, August 10th starting at 7:30pm at Major’s Hill Park. During their remarks on local conditions of confinement, they will also share recommendations for change from women and men currently incarcerated at the provincial jail on Innes Road that were recently published in the second quarterly report of the Jail Accountability & Information Line. Changes are being sought at Ottawa’s jail to prevent others from suffering the same fate of people like Jean Veillette, who died at OCDC this past January. Those gathered at the vigil will also commemorate other people who’ve lost their lives at the Innes Road jail, including Cleve “Cas” Geddes and Justin St. Amour, who were each the focus of coroner’s inquests this past year. Event speakers will be available for media interviews.

The origins of PJD can be traced back to Eddie Nalon, who died alone in a cell located in the segregation unit of Millhaven maximum-security penitentiary on August 10th 1974. A year later, prisoners at the institution observed the first Prisoners’ Justice Day. Following the May 1976 preventable death of Bobby Landers, who was transferred to Millhaven in response to his advocacy for human rights in prison and ended-up in a segregation unit cell where his calls for medical assistance were ignored, the prisoners there issued a communiqué “To All Prisoners and Concerned Peoples from across Canada” on August 10th 1976. In it, they called for a one-day hunger strike demanding an end to solitary confinement and other human rights abuses behind bars.

More than four decades later, organizers behind and beyond the walls across Canada (e.g. Halifax, Kingston, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.) and elsewhere around the world continue to answer the call sent by prisoners at Millhaven to their fellow human beings. On Algonquin Territory / in Ottawa, local advocates are organizing a peaceful vigil at Major’s Hill Park in a show of solidarity with people forcibly confined in cages who are marking the lives, time and human potential needlessly lost to imprisonment, while demanding an end to barbaric spaces like segregation ranges – now known as “structured living units” in Canadian federal penitentiaries.

Along with those once held at OCDC, people who’ve done time in federal penitentiaries and the loved ones of prisoners, will also speak at the vigil to underscore the need to limit the damage of confinement. Survivors of human caging will also discuss the need to create more pathways to freedom that promote community well-being and safety, including for Indigenous justice organizers in Labrador who’ve been criminalized and imprisoned for resisting the erection of a hydro-electric damn at Muskrat Falls that’ll poison their lands and people. In keeping with the history of PJD and in solidarity with Indigenous justice organizers, vigil participants are encouraged to participate in a day-long fast.

The vigil taking place near the United States Embassy will also make links to on-going movements for social justice in the ‘land of the free’ where thousands of migrants seeking a better life – including children – are being held in concentration camps. The event will also mark Black August, which has commemorated the deaths of Black leaders behind bars and involved the study of the history of repression directed towards people of colour that has informed struggles for self-determination since the 1970s.

Members of the community concerned about human rights for all are encouraged to participate in this non-violent action organized by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, and the Millhaven Lifers Liaison Group. Journalists are also welcome to attend.

To arrange for media interviews with former prisoners and their supporters contact:
Justin Piché, PhD - Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, uOttawa

Thursday, August 8, 2019

JAIL hotline releases second quarterly report ahead of Prisoners' Justice Day vigil on August 10th at Major's Hill Park


The Jail Accountability & Information Line releases its
second quarterly report highlighting pressing human rights issues 
at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

8 August 2019 – Today, the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL), a hotline that takes calls on weekdays from 1:00pm to 4:00pm from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community, released its second quarterly report highlighting the challenges faced by prisoners at the provincial jail on Innes Road. During the second quarter of the JAIL hotline’s operations (10 March to 9 June 2019), volunteers took 796 calls, surpassing 659 calls taken during the initiative’s first quarter (10 December 2018 to 9 March 2019). Just three days into its third quarter (12 June 2019), the JAIL hotline surpassed 1,500 calls.

The volume of calls received and the lack of action by the provincial government and the Ministry of the Solicitor General to address issues at OCDC that JAIL hotline callers and volunteers have raised troubles Aaron Doyle, sociology professor at Carleton University and co-founder of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP). He notes: “The Ministry refers us to their existing complaint channels, which clearly aren’t working. The jail’s Community Advisory Board and prisoners’ families have complained for years about problems, from serious deficiencies in medical and mental health care to huge phone bills people pay to stay in touch with their relatives behind bars due to the dysfunctional phone system, but very little has changed”.

As was the case during the JAIL hotline’s first quarter, medical and mental health care were a major area of concern for callers during its second quarter. The lack of medical privacy, the misadministration of medication, delays in accessing opioid substitution therapy and other pressing health care services, along with the lack of continuity in care between community and jail health professionals, continue to be public health issues regularly faced by prisoners at OCDC, most of whom will soon return to live in Eastern Ontario communities. For JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight, the situation necessitates both short-term and long-term solutions. She states: “Moving the responsibility of health care provision at OCDC to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care would create a more seamless transition between treatment received in the jail and care required in the community. This move would also create efficiencies and increase access to essential services. Beyond this, the Government of Ontario as a whole needs to devise more solutions to divert people who are criminalized away from jails and create avenues for provincial prisoners who develop conditions behind bars to access therapeutic spaces in the community. Jail is never therapeutic”.

In a context where the proportion of people presumed innocent and awaiting their day in court behind bars has already exploded in recent decades to the point that they represent nearly 70% of prisoners held in Ontario’s provincial jails and prisons, it’s clear that a crisis in access to justice existed even before Premier Ford and his team made funding cuts to Legal Aid Ontario. Lydia Dobson, Legal Coordinator for the JAIL hotline, explains what’s at stake: “Report after report has documented the fact that Ontario has a bail system that’s unreasonable and sets people up to fail. These cuts will mean that people living in poverty in the province will increasingly not have access to things like Legal Aid cerficates for bail hearings. At the hotline, we’re already seeing more callers requesting information to try to fill the gaps”. Justin Piché, criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of CPEP, adds: “If the short-sighted cuts to Legal Aid aren’t reversed by Premier Ford we could see an increase in pre-trial detention, which already represents an affront to justice and is extremely expensive at it stands now”.

A central issue running through the report released today is that many of the challenges OCDC prisoners face are exacerbated by the outdated phone system that doesn’t allow calls to cell phones or phone lines with switch boards. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, explains: “In the 21st century, communication is a fundamental human right. The Ministry’s poor phone system contract and punitive policies, coupled with Bell Canada placing profits over people and reasonable service provision, creates a cluster of issues for incarcerated people. It further isolates them from their families. It hinders their access to attaining justice and critical community resources. It creates and exacerbates their medical and mental health conditions when they’re unable to make arrangements to ensure they can gain access to their care providers and prescriptions upon their re-entry into society. If safe reintegration and community safety is one of the Government of Ontario’s preoccupations, then they should make overhauling the telephone system in the province’s jails and prisons a priority by making it free and accessible”.

Today’s report prepared by JAIL hotline volunteers was informed by the observations and recommendations made by people held at OCDC. Among the proposed reforms included in the report are those prepared by women and men in the jail that'll be read at a Prisoners’ Justice Day vigil being held this Saturday, August 10th from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at Major’s Hill Park. Community members who wish to mourn preventable deaths in custody and demand an end to injustices experienced inside sites of human caging, along with members of the press, are welcome to attend.

For media interviews contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

JAIL hotline takes nearly 1,500 calls in its first 6 months


In its first 6 months, volunteers at the JAIL hotline took nearly 1,500 calls from people imprisoned at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, serving as a bridge to building community behind and beyond bars

The Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL), a volunteer hotline, which has been operating weekdays from 1pm to 4pm since launching on 10 December 2018, has received 1,473 calls in the first six months of its operations from people caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). People call the JAIL hotline seeking support to address human rights issues and information to facilitate their safe re-entry into the community. The sheer volume of calls reveal the inadequacy of internal and external oversight channels that Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General officials insist are sufficient to address pressing issues at the Innes Road jail and other provincial sites of confinement.

This response troubles Aaron Doyle, a founding member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) which administers the JAIL hotline and sociology professor at Carleton University, who notes: “Ministry and OCDC officials point to the Community Advisory Board [CAB] and internal complaint processes as evidence of oversight. Meanwhile, the last CAB report available online dates back to 2016 and they’ve ignored many of their recommendations. Prisoners from different ranges tell us that some officers deny them access to complaint forms, and refuse to provide their names and badge numbers. When people call the Ministry’s Client Conflict Resolution Unit, they’re sometimes asked whether they want to pursue a complaint and told it could put them in harms way. Is this what government transparency and accountability looks like?”

Despite resistance from Ministry and OCDC officials over the past six months, JAIL hotline volunteers remain committed to working in solidarity with prisoners and their loved ones to resist state repression in ways that have made a real difference in their lives. For example, JAIL hotline Coordinator and Researcher Sarah Speight notes, “Without our frequent calls to the healthcare unit at the Innes Road jail, a number of prisoners wouldn’t have been able to go to the hospital to receive urgent care for things like broken bones or get access to their prescribed opioid substitution medications. That we’ve got to exist to do the work we do ought to give everyone pause and question why we tolerate inadequate care in the community that leads to people being behind bars where they’re dehumanized further and, in some cases, exposed to a tortured existence”.

In striving towards reducing the pains of imprisonment experienced by, and improving the post-release prospects of, people held at OCDC, building relationships and working in solidarity with incarcerated persons has been central to the JAIL hotline’s operations. Lead Coordinator of the JAIL hotline, Souheil Benslimane, states: “People behind bars experience the brutalities of imprisonment, and know first-hand the human consequences of dysfunctional Ministry policies and procedures. They also face repression and retribution for merely advocating for their human rights. Facing continued systemic violence by those officially tasked with caring and protecting them they show tremendous resiliency. We, as outside allies, have no choice but to support them in the face of normalized injustice and we’re heartened by the involvement of community care and service providers we have connected callers with to alleviate human suffering. We urge other community organizations to join us in this struggle”.

To bolster our capacity to impact laws, policies and practices at OCDC in ways that will reverberate well beyond its walls, the JAIL hotline is developing its legal strategy and capacity. JAIL hotline Legal Coordinator, Lydia Dobson, explains: “With six months of familiarizing ourselves with the issues facing people held at the Innes Road jail and their families behind us, in the coming six months and beyond we’re dedicating significant time towards the development of legal information resources and pathways to legal services so that they can better defend themselves when their human rights are being violated. The province should work with us to address issues at the Innes Road jail without resorting to more costly avenues”.

Later this month, the JAIL hotline will release its second quaterly report describing longstanding human rights issues plaguing OCDC, along with recommendations for change behind and beyond its walls. Justin Piché, founding member of CPEP and criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, expresses hope that the report will be well-received by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who “needs to direct her officials to stop deflecting and take immediate steps to limit the damage inflicted upon the roughly 70% of prisoners awaiting their day in court and 30% of prisoners serving short sentences at OCDC. Planning to open a new jail several years from now, isn’t an action plan, it’s doubling-down on the proven failure of imprisonment to line the pockets of big business while vital community supports are being eroded by the province in ways that undermine community well-being and safety. Premier Ford and his team need to be open for the business of building communities with more robust education and social services, and significantly more avenues for diversion and decarceration to prevent harm, instead of erecting bigger jails planned by the Wynne administration that’ll push people further to the margins under the pretense of care”.

For Media Interviews Contact:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator
Jail Accountability & Information Line

Thursday, May 30, 2019

CPEP takes part in demonstration at Queen's Park demanding care and justice for people criminalized and caged in Ontario's jails and prisons


CPEP stands in solidarity with the loved ones of prisoners who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their lives in Ontario’s provincial jails and prisons

30 May 2019 – People held in Ontario jails and prisons face the real prospect of being harmed or killed as a result of government neglect and inadequate investments in cost-effective community services that could have steered them away from incarceration. A group of families who’ve lost loved ones to preventable deaths behind bars have organized a march and a series of demonstrations outside several Ontario jails and prisons culminating in an event at Queen’s Park today demanding change. The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project stands in solidarity with these families and others across Ontario who have lost, or are at risk of losing, loved ones to death by imprisonment.

Ontario’s jails and prisons are filled with people pushed to the margins of society who often didn’t have adequate access to housing, food, education, employment, health and mental health care, and other basic services in the community prior to their incarceration. Criminological research has shown that for every $1 invested upstream towards preventing harm we can save up to $7 on policing, court, jailing and victims’ services costs incurred when law-breaking occurs. Lydia Dobson, Legal Coordinator for the Jail Accountability & Information Line which has received more than 1,500 calls from Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) prisoners since opening in December 2018, notes: “We receive many calls about the horrors of jailing – access to justice barriers, the expensive phone system that cuts people off from their families, the use of segregation, extremely poor healthcare and food, and much more. Imprisonment does great damage to people. Ontario needs to invest more in upstream services to enhance community well-being and safety to cage less and care more”.

Before the mid-1990s, approximately 30% of provincial and territorial prisoners in Canada were presumed innocent and awaiting their day in court on any given day. According to the most recent Statistics Canada data, pre-trial detention accounts for more than half of the people held in provincial and territorial jails and prisons across the country. In Ontario, approximately 69% of the province’s prisoners have yet to be tried and/or convicted. The growth in pre-trial detention has increased crowding experienced in many Ontario jails and prisons, where 2 to 3 prisoners are routinely warehoused in cells originally designed for one person. For this and other reasons (e.g. Ministry of Solicitor General and institutional policies and practices), Ontario falls far short of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Building bigger jails has been tried and has failed to bring about positive change in this province. Ontario relies on imprisonment in place of community care far too often, and can safely alleviate jail and prison crowding by investing and relying more on proven and less costly diversion measures like harm reduction, bail with reasonable conditions, bail supervision programs, and bail beds.

Roughly 30% of Ontario’s prisoners have been convicted and are serving sentences in provincial jails and prisons. Some of these people live safely amongst us in the community where they maintain employment and/or family obligations during the week and serve their intermittent sentences on the weekends behind bars. The province can safely reduce crowding in its jails and prisons by investing in and relying more on proven and less costly decarceration measures like probation, temporary absences, weekend temporary absences, halfway houses, and parole with reasonable conditions.

When social harm occurs in our neighbourhoods, those affected need information, compassion, care, accountability and justice. Rarely are such needs met when we turn to cops, courts and confinement. What’s often most appropriate are voluntary justice processes that not only give voice to affected parties and hold people accountable for their actions in non-violent ways that promote change, but also result in transformations to social structures that give rise to harm (e.g. classism, racism, sexism, heteronormativity, etc.). Ontario should become a leader in transformative justice by building community dispute resolution infrastructure to improve justice and community safety outcomes, while diminishing policing and court costs, as well as the use of imprisonment in response to social harm.

Despite the findings and recommendations from countless coroner’s inquests, task forces, and studies, both prisoners and staff continue to endure physical and psychological harm due to preventable neglect, overdoses, and violence behind bars in Ontario’s jails and prisons. Souheil Benslimane, Lead Coordinator for the Jail and Accountability & Information Line, states: "Incarcerated callers have reported several systemic issues to us, including the denial of timely access to critical healthcare such as opioid substitution treatment at OCDC, which forces patients to suffer from excruciating withdrawal symptoms. The neglect exposes already marginalized people to even greater harm”.

By making the right investments in cost-effective prevention, as well as diversion and decarceration measures, the Government of Ontario can allocate more resources towards programming opportunities, medical and mental health services, and better trained staff to diminish the pains of imprisonment and enhance community re-entry outcomes as a result. If Premier Ford and his team want to ensure that people don’t leave provincial jails and prisons in much worse condition than when they entered or in body bags, as well as avoid the costs of future litigation and lost legal battles associated with human rights abuses occurring under their watch, they need to act today.

About the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
CPEP is a group based in Ottawa comprised of current and former prisoners, their loved ones, university and college professors and students, and other concerned members of the community who have been organizing since 2012 to reduce the use of imprisonment and diminish the pains of human caging. Current initiatives include the No Ottawa Prison Expansion / #NOPE campaign that seeks to divert funds currently allocated towards a new and bigger provincial jail in Eastern Ontario towards community care and services that will cost-effectively enhance well-being and safety. The group also operates the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL hotline) that works with people held at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre to address human rights issues and connect them with resources to facilitate their safe re-entry into society following their release from custody.

Contacts for media interviews
On site at Queen’s Park:
Lydia Dobson
Legal Coordinator – Jail Accountability & Information Line

By phone:
Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator – Jail Accountability & Information Line

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Join the #NOPE / No Ottawa Prison Expansion readiness team!

While Premier Doug Ford and his team make deep cuts to education and social services, the provincial government announced it's moving forward with a new and bigger jail in Thunder Bay, which Infrastructure Ontario estimates will cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to design, build, finance and maintain through a 30-year public-private-partnership.

We need to be ready to respond quickly if Premier Ford and his team also move forward with a new and bigger jail in Ottawa that was previously announced by the Liberals under the leadership of then Premier Kathleen Wynne. In a terrible trade-off, the new Ottawa jail is projected to cost up to $500 million to $1 billion, all while the Progressive Conservatives are cutting $1 billion in social services across the province

Please join the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project's #NOPE / No Ottawa Prison Expansion readiness team to resist Premier Ford's push to build jails, while making brutal cuts to care and services that actually enhance community well-being and safety. Roles range in commitment from sharing our announcements with your contacts for those who cannot devote significant time to high-level planning for those who wish to be more involved.

Email your name, email address and/or phone number to cpep.action@gmail.com to be added to our #NOPE readiness team. Upon receiving your email, we will be get in touch with you within a week with next steps.

To learn more about the #NOPE campaign click on the links below:

Infographics Series - The History of Jail Expansion in Ottawa
Part I and Part II

Also check-out our op-eds explaining why building a new and bigger jail in Ottawa is a missed opportunity to enhance community well-being and safety in Eastern Ontario:

"Here's how to really address problems at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre" 

"Divest from jails, reinvest in community supports" 

"The new Ottawa jail will just become another hellhole" 

"Why a new Ottawa jail won't necessarily make things better" 

"'There is no neutral ground':
Carceral expansion and organizations that serve the criminalized in Canada" 

"Here's why we should stop planning for a new jail" 

"Ottawa jail project needs more transparency" 

"There are many alternatives to a bigger jail" 

"Premier's support for new Ottawa jail costly, ineffective" 

"Ontario's kids need more education today, not more cages tomorrow" 
(Rabble, 4 April 2019)

#got99solutions - bigger jails ain't one
With #our1billion #BuildCommunitiesNotCages
#NOPE / No Ontario Prison Expansion
#YESS / Yes to Education and Social Services

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Care and Compassion in the Community, Not Cages: A Demonstration Demanding Justice for Justin St. Amour


Wednesday, April 17, 2019
12:30pm – 1:00pm

Canadian Tribute to Human Rights
(corner of Elgin and Lisgar)

Laureen St. Amour (Justin’s mother)
Paul Champ (Lawyer, Champ & Associates)
JP (Member, CPEP / Criminalization and Punishment Education Project)

The inquest into the preventable December 2016 death of Justin St. Amour began on Monday, April 8, 2019. During the inquest, it has come to light that several opportunities were missed to provide Justin with adequate care and compassion in the community during the course of his life. Living with mental health issues and often homeless, Justin ended-up at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Placed on and then taken off suicide watch, Justin tore his bed sheets and assembled a noose in his cell, and told a guard checking-in on him that he would take his own life if he did not speak to his supervisor. Despite this, his urgent call was not taken seriously and Justin hung himself with staff failing to intervene in time. Justin was taken to hospital, where he died eight days later. The incarceration and death of Justin St. Amour, like so many others who have been sent to and died in Ontario’s provincial jails, was preventable.

Those gathered at the April 17, 2019 demonstration will be demanding justice for Justin St. Amour and his family in the form of provincial government action to ensure that appropriate care and compassion for people living with mental health issues exists in the community so that they do not end-up in jails like the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre or dead.

Media Contact
Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)
613-793-1093 / justin.piche@uottawa.ca

Social Media

Monday, April 15, 2019

Caging isn't caring: Responding to the overdose crisis behind and beyond bars - A community conversation


Tuesday, April 16, 2019
6:00pm – 8:00pm

25One Community
251 Bank Street (2nd floor) / Ottawa

Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Drug Users Advocacy League
Overdose Prevention Ottawa

While harm reduction advocates and medical professionals call upon the provincial government to reverse its recent decision to cut the number of overdose prevention sites in Ontario as people continue to die daily from preventable opioid overdoses, this crisis also persists in jails and prisons with far too little appropriate action. 

In the midst of this public health emergency, organizations that advocate for the rights of people who use drugs and people who have been criminalized in Ottawa are organizing a community conversation on what needs to change in order to avoid further overdose deaths in Ontario’s jails and prisons. This event is taking place in conjunction with the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis, organized by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs. Those participating in the National Day of Action are demanding concrete action from all levels of government to address the overdose crisis, which has been causing devastation in the lives of Canadians on both sides of the walls for years.

During this event, statements will be read from individuals who are currently incarcerated in Ontario regarding the impact the overdose crisis has had on their lives behind bars and the recommendations they have to prevent future deaths in provincial sites of confinement. Speakers will then discuss the context of the overdose crisis in Ontario, the necessity of harm reduction both behind bars as well in the community, and the particular harms associated with substance use in the unsafe conditions produced in provincial jails and prisons. Refreshments and a light meal will be provided. This event aims to bring attention to issues facing people who use drugs behind and beyond bars, and to the broader themes of incarceration, substance use, and the need for increased access to harm reduction service delivery in Ontario.

Media Contact
Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)
613-793-1093 / justin.piche@uottawa.ca

Social Media

Recent Media
Leblanc, Sean, Sarah Speight, Justin Piché and Souheil Benslimane (2019) "Ontario must reduce overdose risks behind and beyond bars", Ottawa Citizen - April 8.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Justice For Soli National Speaking Tour on Mental Health and Incarceration in Canada makes stop in Ottawa as coroner’s inquest into the death of Justin St. Amour who was jailed at OCDC begins


Monday, April 8, 2019
4:00pm – 6:00pm

MacOdrum Library
Discovery Centre / Room 482
Carleton University

Justice for Soli with OPIRG Carleton and the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project

On December 4, 2016, Soleiman Faqiri was temporarily housed at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay, Ontario while awaiting a bed at the Ontario Shores Centres for Mental Health. Soleiman had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and was identified as having urgent mental-health needs by his family and correctional staff. Soleiman was killed under government care on December 15, 2016 following an altercation with guards at CECC.

In October 2017, the Kawartha Lakes Police Services (KLPS) announced that no charges would be filed against any Lindsay CECC officers. Several media reports have questioned whether the police service was far enough removed from the case to conduct its probe impartially.

On January 20, 2019, CBC’s The Fifth Estate released their investigation and findings in the documentary “Jail Death: What Happened to Soleiman Faqiri?” This investigation uncovered new evidence, including an eye witness whom provides a first-person account of the brutal assault on Soleiman by CECC guards. The Ontario Provincial Police has reopened the criminal investigation into Soleiman’s death.

During this event, where The Fifth Estate documentary will be screened, Yusuf Faqiri will speak and advocate for justice, accountability, and reform on behalf of his brother Soleiman and his family. This event is taking place in Ottawa on the same day that the inquest begins here into the death of another former prisoner, Justin St. Amour. Like Soleiman, Justin had been living with mental health issues and, instead of receiving appropriate care and compassion in the community, ended-up in an Ontario jail. In Justin’s case, he died in hospital 8 days after he hung himself with a bedsheet in his cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre after his repeated requests for intervention were ignored.

The speaking tour aims to bring attention to Soleiman’s case and to the broader themes of mental health, imprisonment in Ontario, and the need for reform.

Media Contact
Yusuf Faqiri
647- 620-7749

Social Media

Most Recent Media Coverage
The Fifth Estate
The Toronto Star

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

JAIL hotline first quarterly advocacy report released


Ottawa JAIL hotline takes more than 650 calls in its first three months of operations – nearly 1 in 10 callers report issues with access to and the administration of opioid substitution treatment medications

12 March 2019 – A volunteer hotline setup to take calls from prisoners at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) and their loved ones in December 2018 to monitor and work towards addressing issues at the jail has received 659 phone calls in three months. Approximately 20 percent of the total calls received from prisoners at the Innes Road jail cited health care as their primary concern, with nearly half of these callers reporting issues with access to, and the administration of, opioid substitution treatment medications in the context of an overdose epidemic inside and outside jail walls in Ontario.

While no prisoners have died recently at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) from drug overdoses, JAIL hotline callers have identified a number of issues that suggest the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is not positioning the institution as well as it could to avoid future catastrophes. Dozens of OCDC prisoners have reported not getting access to their treatment regimens and experiencing excruciating withdrawal symptoms. One former OCDC prisoner describes the impact the situation has had: “they’re doing a third more time because they’re not sleeping”. Even when people get access to their medications, callers report receiving insufficient or inconsistently timed dosages, which increases the probability of overdoses upon release. One caller remarked: “Within three weeks they tapered me down to 2 millilitres. After release I wasn’t able to make it to my methadone clinic and ended-up overdosing”. The lack of continuity in care between jails and community healthcare providers was also an issue for many callers who expressed their frustrations waiting weeks for access to their OST medications because OCDC healthcare staff were not acting on the opioid substitution treatment agreement forms sent by community doctors in a timely manner. One caller stated: “Some people get cut-off their methadone inside, then when they get released the methadone clinics are closed, and people get heroin with fentanyl in it and they OD”.

JAIL hotline coordinator Sarah Speight underscores the significance of these problems: “In the face of this crisis, where an average of more than three human beings died every day in the province in 2017 – a trend which continues – the Government of Ontario needs to do more to stop preventable deaths, including in custody”. For Speight, there are several solutions available to address the overdose crisis inside and outside jail walls: “At OCDC, prisoners who require methadone or suboxone should have timely access to their medication. Providing nasal naxolone to prisoners to augment the emergency response capacity of the institution, and providing education on harm reduction and overdose prevention resources to people upon their release from custody would also help. To ensure continuity of care from communities to jails, the provincial government should transfer medical and mental health care responsibilities to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. This would save lives and money. Premier Ford should also demand that Prime Minister Trudeau’s federal government decriminalize and facilitate access to a safe supply of regulated drugs of a known potency to prevent the further criminalization and deaths of people who use them”.

Several other issues reported by prisoners documented in the JAIL hotline’s first quarterly report include: matters relating to access to justice; prolonged use of segregation and inadequate review mechanisms; the inability of prisoners to call the cell phones of their loved ones and the above-market, high costs of collect calls; poor treatment from some staff members; lack of medical privacy due to continued medical and mental heallth assessments through cell door slots; cutting-off or modification of the administration of prescriptions; poor air quality; lack of cleanliness in some cells; inadequate winter gear to access yard; the predatory prices at canteen for basic necessities to maintain personal hygiene and food to supplement poor quality meals provided by the jail, and lower canteen account limits put in place last fall that require more frequent deposits by prisoners’ loved ones on-site; and lockdowns associated with incarcerating weekend prisoners at OCDC or transferring them to other facilities where they endured more austere conditions of confinement.

The JAIL hotline’s first quarterly report contains 23 recommendations to limit the damage of incarceration experienced by prisoners. Souheil Benslimane – who’s also a JAIL hotline coordinator – notes, “what we’re proposing are common sense remedies to improve conditions of confinement at OCDC and reduce the use of imprisonment. We will continue our work with prisoners and their loved ones, no matter the barriers, no matter the walls that stand in our way”.

To arrange for a media interview with report authors contact:
Souheil Benslimane, Coordinator, JAIL Hotline – 819-592-6469 / jailhotline@gmail.com