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The recent release of a new report from the federal Correctional investigator yet again shows the many serious deficiencies in Canada’s prisons, and the indifference of the government to fix these despite many protestations otherwise.  However many sources show that conditions in provincial jails are generally much worse – and get much less attention. And keep in mind that the vast majority of people in provincial jails are on remand – that is, they have not been convicted of a crime.

JAIL Hotline, Ottawa

First exhibit, Ottawa.  The JAIL hotline has volunteers taking calls from prisoners at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).  In the third quarter of 2019, they handled more than 900 calls, a number that goes up every quarter.  In a release of data, they reported:

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”.

Issues in Ottawa

Among the major issues arising from the calls were

– poor access to essential medical and dental care, including vital drugs.  This simple statement covers hundreds of people who are in absolute misery from untreated pain.

– blocked access to lawyers due to many lockdowns, lack of access to public information, and reprisals for prisoners who asserted rights to justice.  These conditions lead to wrongful convictions as people plead guilty to get out of a jail they should not have been in to start with.

– mold throughout the institution creating health problems.

– lack of access to phones and visits, and phone rates that are astronomically high, so that people cannot maintain contact with wives, husbands, parents, children and others they love and care for.22

– failures to provide parole or bail preparation and support so that people who are released are unable to find a place to live or work or other conditions that would allow them a decent life.

The Ontario government still plans to spend $1 billion to build a new and larger jail instead of supporting the services that would result in far fewer people being in jail in the first place.

Other jails similar

But Ottawa is not unusual.  It’s just that the JAIL project has done the work to reveal conditions that are common in jails across the country.  Other examples:

– Toronto South Detention Centre.  Several judges have stayed criminal charges because of appalling conditions in this quite new jail, called by one judge ‘deliberate state misconduct’.

Edmonton’s remand centre with a culture of harassment of staff as well as prisoner.

Saskatoon jail, where basic conditions have been called unsafe and inhumane.

– Windsor, so overcrowded that lawyers often can’t see their clients.

– London Middlesex Detention Centre, referred to as ‘the devil’s playground’.

A future post will also look at some of the horrible situations in northern Canada that have recently resulted in several cases in which courts stayed charges due to egregious situations with jail and bail hearings.

Giant waste of money and lives

Provincial jails hold about 25,00 prisoners on an average day compared with fewer than 15,000 prisoners in federal prisons.  This system costs about $2 billion per year to Canadian taxpayers.  It is much more expensive per person than sending someone to the very best university.  It is a terrible system that wastes public money while also ruining people’s lives.  Yet no provincial government shows any real interest in making improvements and saving money while doing so.