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