Monday, September 21, 2020

New prison infrastructure won’t address the vast majority of issues reported to the JAIL hotline by human beings caged at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre


21 September 2020 (unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Territory) – Late last month and amid the defund the police movement in which Indigenous and Black peoples are calling for divestment from all oppressive and harmful racist institutions across Canada, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the provincial government’s plan to increase their capacity to cage people by over 400 beds. Their plan includes renovating the notorious Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC), building a new jail in nearby Kemptville, replacing the Brockville Jail with a new facility, and expanding the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville along with the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee. The price tag for these projects remains shrouded under a cloud of secrecy. This signals a departure from and scaling-up of the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General’s Eastern Region Strategy announced by the Kathleen Wynne administration to replace 585-bed OCDC with a new and bigger 725-bed jail.

In response to the promise made by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones that the new, renovated, and expanded jails would help usher in “a bold new approach” to ‘corrections’ that would contribute to the rehabilitation of prisoners, Dr. Justin Piché – a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa – responded: “There’s little evidence to suggest that this will materialize in practice when one takes stock of the history of prison construction in Ontario. This is evident in the clear disconnect between OCDC’s emergence as a “rehabilitation unit” in the 1970s and the human rights violations that have plagued the site largely owing to the Ministry’s own policies not being followed”.

Over the past 21 months, Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) callers imprisoned at OCDC have routinely communicated to hotline staff and volunteers that the building itself is not the central source of the problems they face. During the third quarter of our second year in operation where the JAIL hotline took 749 calls and over the course of its 21-month existence where the initiative has taken over 6,000 calls, people held at OCDC have consistently cited the failed implementation of Ministry policy as the primary source of the degrading and dehumanizing treatment they have endured. Notable evidence of this is the continued failure of the OCDC administration and Ministry officials to respect the rights of Indigenous prisoners who continue to await a response to their legal notice submitted in late July 2020 demanding that their legally mandated spiritual and cultural rights are respected. Indigenous prisoners at OCDC reported that they are being denied access to their sacred medicines and are being denied access to smudging ceremonies. While Mukwoh Land, an Ojibway and Inuit man imprisoned at the Innes Road jail, notes that “OCDC is another Canadian institution that enforces anti-Indigenous state violence and systemic discrimination under the veil of safety”, new buildings are not the source or the solution to such human rights issues, but rather the “respect our cultures and spiritualities as they claim in their policies”. New jail infrastructure is also not needed to end the violence of “mandatory strip searches every two weeks in front of each other without suspicion” that “feels like sexual assault” reported by JAIL hotline callers caged in the women’s unit.

If ending the violence of incarceration and enhancing community safety are the objectives, building new cages will not accomplish either goal. Souheil Benslimane – Lead Coordinator of the Jail Accountability & Information Line – explains: “On the Indigenous lands now commonly known as Canada, prisons emerged to enforce colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy, and other violent structures. If white and non-white settlers are serious about decolonization, racial justice, gender equality, 2SLGBTQQIA rights, and creating just, accessible and healthy communities, we must resist government efforts to shove people further to the margins. This will be exacerbated through the current plan for more investments in imprisonment to the detriment of additional investments that could otherwise be made in people through public education and other supports. Expanding colonial cages at this critical juncture in our history in the midst of mainstream calls for police defunding and prison abolition, as well as a global pandemic, not only perpetuates violent systems of social control, but also rewards failure in ways that’ll further harm people and communities for generations to come. We need to build communities, not cages”.

For English and French Media Interviews Contact:

Souheil Benslimane
Lead Coordinator, Jail Accountability & Information Line
819-592-6469 |

Justin Piché, PhD
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project

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