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 / 

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