500 words, 2 minutes to read
Audio summary by volunteer Gilliam Sherman.
This post is a statement by Rachel Fayter as part of a recent press conference addressing the real issues in bail reform. Ms Fayter is a doctoral student in criminology at the University of Ottawa who was herself incarcerated. This is her story about her bail experience, quite different from the current narrative in the media and by provincial premiers.
Even without a reverse-onus bail process, it is very difficult for people to get released on bail. When I was arrested in 2011 for a non-violent offence, I had no prior criminal record, was enrolled in full-time graduate studies, and working part-time. I spent 3 days in custody before I was granted bail set at over $50 000 with exceedingly strict conditions. Unlike most incarcerated people, I was in a privileged position being able to make collect phone calls to find a surety (which is a person without a criminal record that posts bail and is responsible for ensuring conditions are followed) that could come to court during the day to bail me out, supervise my conditions, and had the necessary financial resources.
I was released on house arrest requiring me to always remain inside, unless I was with my surety, even to go to the doctor. This meant that I lost my housing, belongings, my job, and I was forced to withdraw from my PhD program. I was not allowed to own a cell phone, required to abstain from alcohol, and report to the police once a week. This was extremely isolating and hard on both me and my family. My trial date was 3 years away, and after 2.5 years I breeched my conditions by leaving home one evening and was subsequently locked up in a maximum-security jail for 6 months.
We’ve already heard about the horrible conditions in provincial jails, where prisoners are subjected to frequent lockdowns, strip searches, violence, overcrowding, horrible food, and lack of health care among other things. Going to trial from jail adds an extra layer of torture.
The effects of my trial
My trial was 3 months long, which meant I had to travel 1.5 hours each way to court 5 days a week. I was woken up at 5am and didn’t return until after 8pm, so I wasn’t able to shower, use the phones, or eat regular meals. My daily routine consisted of being taken down to a holding cell, with restraints on my hands and feet, put into an unsafe metal transfer van without seatbelts, windows, cushions, or heat in the winter; then locked into a filthy court cell with nothing to occupy my time. All my meals consisted of a cheese or tuna sandwich. Every night I was strip searched.
After 2 weeks of this horrible treatment, I was forced to enter a guilty plea for a crime I was not guilty of because I couldn’t imagine surviving another 2.5 months of these tortuous conditions.
Prison has had long-term negative impacts on my emotional, physical, and mental health requiring years of healing to overcome the trauma of imprisonment.
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